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After breakout game, Towson wide receiver Christian Summers to play close to home against Villanova

Christian Summers grew up in the shadow of Villanova, played football in its back yard and has an uncle who starred there. But when recruiting time came, the Wildcats did not.

"They weren't interested in me," Summers said.

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They are now. On Saturday, Villanova will try to stop Towson's mercurial wide receiver, whose two long touchdown receptions in the second half in a 35-28 win over Saint Francis (Pa.) earned him honors as the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week. His 94-yard score – the second longest play in Tigers history – tied the game at 28, and Summers' airborne catch of a 43-yard pass won it for Towson (1-1).

Word of his performance spread fast.

"When I came off the field, I had 40 text messages saying 'congratulations' from all of my boys," Summers said. All told, he had six receptions for 232 yards, numbers not lost on the Wildcats (1-1), who host the Tigers at 3:30 p.m. With nine receptions in two games, the 6-foot-3 senior is averaging 33 yards a catch – a figure sure to paint a target on his back.

"Teams are going to notice me a little more, and that's a good thing," Summers said. "If they put both a corner [back] and safety on me, it could open up our running game."

Summers' success was not unexpected, coach Rob Ambrose said.

"Christian is an incredibly hard worker who doesn't just like football, he loves it. It's part of his DNA," Ambrose said. "The sky is the limit for him."

His breakout game was well-timed for the Drexel Hill (Pa.) native, who'll play in front of family and friends Saturday. That includes his uncle, Dan Summers, a bruising linebacker for Villanova 25 years ago.

"We haven't done much trash-talking," Summers said. "My uncle has been very supportive of me here – but we'll see what [school's] colors he's wearing at the game."

Summers didn't play against the Wildcats last year, his first with Towson. A transfer from Valley Forge Military College, he caught 26 passes as a junior but lacked the savvy and speed he has now.

"I was just a big [220-pound] dude who tried to overpower everybody," he said. "Since I've slimmed down, my routes are smoother and I feel better on my feet."

He showed it on that 94-yard romp, outrunning everyone but a Red Flash safety who caught Summers at the one-yard line. Officials gave him the score. Good call or no?

"Umm … maybe," he said. "I'm just glad we got the touchdown."

The winner was a diving grab in the end zone of Ellis Knudson's pass as Summers left his feet, stretched out and speared the ball with his size-10 hands.

"Ellis just believed in me and chucked it up," he said. "I thought I had no chance because the ball was so far ahead of me, but I just laid out and caught it in the right corner. That was huge; I was shocked."

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In truth, he's still learning the game, having abandoned football for nearly three years in high school. As a sophomore, Summers suffered a concussion in practice and quit the team.

"I went out for a pass, got hit – and then my head hit the ground," he said. "I had headaches for a month; it was scary. The doctor said to give up football."

It was a heart-wrenching decision. As a child, Summers said he "breathed football. Know how kids love playing video games? I was never that kid. I was always outside with a football in my hands."

As a senior at Monsignor Bonner, he returned to the team in midseason and caught four touchdown passes in a game against Archbishop Wood, the eventual Pennsylvania 3A champions.

"He didn't know the playbook but he leaped over two guys and caught the ball," said his coach, Greg Bernhardt. "Athletically, Christian was a freak on the field."

At Valley Forge, Summers honed his game and structured his life.

"That place gave me focus and order," he said. "I grew up there. Time management was huge, from marching to breakfast to mandatory study halls at night. It put a lot of character in me."

At least 10 Valley Forge alumni have reached the NFL, including Larry Fitzgerald, a nine-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals whom Summers would like to follow.

"He [Fitzgerald] is definitely an idol in my life, hands-down," he said. "It would be an honor to be anywhere near that good – but I'm shooting for the stars."

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