Last season, the Myrtle Beach Seahawks did not know where they would turn to find their No. 1 receiver coming off their 2008 Class AAA state championship.
There are no such questions this season. Quarterback Everett Golson will be looking in the direction of senior Donte Sumpter on most plays in 2010.
"Last year he was coming up from the JV, and to be honest we were all a little bit worried about him making that step up on the varsity level," Seahawks coach Mickey Wilson said. "He worked his tail off and got to a point where he was our go-to receiver, he was our No. 1 guy.
"He's our main receiver. He's the first guy we're going to look at in most of our routes, and we feed off him."
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Sumpter split time between the Seahawks' varsity and JV teams his freshman and sophomore years, and last year caught 78 passes for 1,103 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Former Seahawks coach Scott Earley encouraged Sumpter to step up as a junior after the graduation of star receiver Jamere Valentine, who led Georgia Southern in receiving last season but didn't return this year. "He told me it's my time. After Jamere's gone I'm the guy," Sumpter said. "That's when I immediately had to work, and everybody was behind me. That was my motivation going into my junior year, I knew I had to step up and be one of the leaders on the team."
Sumpter, who has verbally committed to East Carolina, provides the Seahawks with the combination of a possession receiver and a speed receiver who can stretch the defense. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound receiver runs about a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and is a precise route runner.
"When he first started playing in our program he wasn't the fastest in the world, but he has run track every year and really done a great job of getting faster," Wilson said, "and I can't remember the last time I saw him drop a ball. He has great hands."
Sumpter wasn't sure he'd be full strength for the start of the season, however, because of a couple of injuries incurred this summer.
A turf toe injury suffered at a passing league in Spartanburg in mid-July kept Sumpter from working out below the waist for a couple of weeks. A car wreck a couple of weeks later kept him out until essentially until Aug. 11. His father was driving and another motorist hit the passenger side of the car.
Sumpter said he had neck spasms a couple of days after the wreck and his lower back hurt, and he was diagnosed with a strained back.
He participated in the Seahawks' first two no-contact two-a-day practices before doctors excluded him from all football activities. Following an MRI he had a week without contact and rejoined team practices two days before the CNB Kickoff Classic at Conway High School.
"Right after I got the MRI and was on my way home, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, please clear me to play,'" Sumpter said. "I was kind of worried when I would be cleared."
Sumpter said there are few lingering effects from either the turf toe or the accident, and he receives treatment before each practice that includes stretching, heating and some massage. "Sometimes I wake up and I feel a little bit of strain, but I still get treatment regularly ... and I'll be feeling good for practice, no problems at all," Sumpter said.
Sumpter committed to East Carolina in May after being offered a full scholarship. Things fell into place for him to commit early to the Greenville, N.C., school.
He initially wanted to attend Texas Tech because of the school's prolific passing offense that was similar to that of Myrtle Beach, and former Texas Tech assistant Ruffin McNeill replaced Skip Holtz as ECU head coach in January. McNeil had been Tech's interim head coach following Mike Leach's dismissal near the end of last season and brought several key members of the Tech offensive staff with him to ECU.
"When I found out their staff went to East Carolina I was amazed," Sumpter said. "I was like 'Well, it's three hours away compared to Texas Tech, which is about nine to 12 hours away.' ... They run the same offense; three hours away; you can't beat it."
After making a visit to the school during spring practices, Sumpter believes he'll enjoy the Greenville area as well as the school and team. "The city is just the perfect fit for me because Myrtle Beach is a big tourist city, but for the most part I'm quiet here and it's pretty quiet there, too."
Wilson believes the Pirates will enjoy what they're getting next fall as well.
"He's got a great passion for football," Wilson said. "He's one of those kids that when games are on Saturday and Sunday, he's going to go home and watch them and talk about them the next week. He just loves football. He's got a great passion for the game, and he's got a great work ethic."