Is It Summers' Time?

FAYETTEVILLE -- Demetris Summers has had Nov. 6 circled on his calendar for some time. That's when the South Carolina tailback gets another crack at Arkansas, the team which caused him to miss two games a year ago.

Summers, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore, left the field on a stretcher when he suffered a concussion on the opening play of the second half. He was hit by Hogs safety Tony Bua and linebacker Sam Olajubutu at the end of a five-yard run.

The Razorbacks won 28-6 and Summers ended up spending the night in a Little Rock hospital for precautionary measures. Medical tests on his neck were negative, but Summers still missed the following game against Florida.

"I don't remember much about the actual game," said Summers, who didn't watch the game film. "But I've really have been looking forward to this playing (Arkansas) again and I'm definitely going to have to step up.

"They're really physical."

As it turns out, Summers is entering Saturday's 11:30 a.m. home game against Arkansas in peak form. He had 10 carries for 95 yards and six receptions for 35 yards in a 43-29 loss against then-No. 11 Tennessee last week.

"Demetris Summers can be very, very proud of the way he played on Saturday," said South Carolina coach Lou Holtz. "Of course, he can be proud every week, but he just elevated his entire game to another level.

"He played as well as any back we've had here."

What Holtz means is that Summers is becoming more of a complete running back. He's always been solid with the ball under his arm, but without it, he appears lost at times.

"He caught the ball very, very well, ran awful good routes and averaged 10 yards a carry," Holtz said. "He blocked very well and that position you have him at, he doesn't only have to run, he also has to block, pass protect, run routes and it requires a very multi-talented individual.

"I felt that by far it was his best game in the fact that he excelled in all those areas."

A problem area Holtz and his staff have tried to hammer into Summers this season is protecting the ball. Since a 14-7 win against Kentucky when the Gamecocks fumbled three times -- twice by Summers -- an emphasis has been placed on ball security.

"We've really been working on some ball drills; tucking the ball away and keeping it close to us," said Summers, who's fumbled four times this season and has 58 carries for 359 yards and a touchdown. "Like Coach Holtz says, 'Without the ball, you can't play.'"

A Parade All-American and the state of South Carolina's career rushing leader out of Lexington High, the pressure on Summers to perform at a high level has been building since Day 1.

As a freshman, Summers gained 638 yards on 124 carries with three touchdowns. He rushed onto the national scene with a 158-yard performance in a 23-20 overtime loss to Tennessee on ESPN2.

However, he hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since last season and that, mixed with the fumbles, had the Charleston (S.C.) Post-Courier pen a story last week titled: "What's wrong with Summers?"

"It felt great knowing that we could run the ball and it felt good seeing him doing his thing again (against Tennessee)," USC right tackle Na'Shan Goddard told The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., this week. "A lot of people have been down on him. He was out there doing his thing all over again."

Summers, who turned 21 last month, has handled the negative press in a positive manner.

"I think he's handled the situation very, very well," Holtz said. "He's a wonderful young man and he's just starting to mature. I see him doing things now naturally that you've been trying to get him to do for a year and a half.

"He came out of high school and he was kind of pushed into this situation. He had success, but without really understanding what college football is all about."

Summers has missed two games and all but two plays of another this season while working through an ankle sprain. Due to the fumbling, his rushing attempts are down, but his 5.8 yards per carry is up from 5.1 a year ago.

"I'm trying everyday to make myself better," Summers said. "Most of it has been just getting my blocking down. I've always been a good runner, but I've had to learn to do better without the ball."

With everything coming together, it now appears to be Summers' time.

"Even when the hole wasn't there (against Tennessee), he got the maximum he could out of it and he protected the ball very well," Holtz said. "Everyday we walk off the practice field now, you just become more impressed with him as a football player.

"I've always been impressed with him as a runner, but now he's a football player."

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