Summie Carlay didn’t like football when his dad first signed him up for a YMCA team.
It wasn’t the game per se. He just hadn’t yet understood his place in it.
“Didn’t really like it at first because I was playing quarterback,” Carlay said. “I didn’t like it when people hit me. My dad told me, ‘You’re either going to get hit or hit. You’ve got to decide.’ That’s when I kind of decided I was going to turn myself into a hitter. It’s just been such a fun game ever since.”
He doesn’t look like a quarterback anymore.
The Laurens product grew into a tight end and defensive end. After a spot moment behind center in middle school, he was back blocking, soon to become the 6-foot-5 offensive tackle who committed to the Gamecocks this spring.
To hear his coach tell it, South Carolina is getting an individual whose value goes beyond the field.
“Summie is as good as it gets,” Laurens coach Chris Liner said. “He’s high-character. He’s an unbelievable student, not just in the game of football. He’s a guy you go to any classroom in this school right here, and every teacher at Laurens will tell you just how special he is.
“He’s that guy that you hope your daughter marries. I don’t know of any bigger compliment that I could give anyone.”
Liner went far enough to call Carlay a throwback to youths of the past, almost a modern Opie Taylor from “The Andy Griffith Show,” in the coach’s words.
That came through in the way he chose South Carolina. Liner has long been a firm believer in his players making their choice once and sticking to it, without games or extra visits.
Carlay admitted he was stressing over the process as offers came in from Virginia, N.C. State and even Columbia in the Ivy League. A few weeks before making the choice, he received a centering moment from his family.
“My mom asked me, ‘You know, if everywhere in the country offered you, where would you go?’ ” Carlay said. “I just thought about it and said South Carolina. So I thought, why would I want to keep leading any of the coaches on? That’s kind of the wrong thing to do, and I just decided to let coach Muschamp know.”
Less than half a year ago, it seemed unlikely Carlay would be in position to tell that to any coach at South Carolina.
Last spring, he weighed 235 pounds, and Liner expected him to land at a smaller in-state school such as Wofford, The Citadel or Furman. The coach had already told him, despite playing tight end early in his career, he didn’t have Division I ability there, but he did at tackle.
Carlay went through last season facing some of the better defensive linemen in the state (Hillcrest’s Tori Delesline, Goose Creek’s Javon Kinlaw and T.L. Hanna’s Zacch Pickens among them), and then he went to work.
“He went on this nutrition regiment where he actually sat down and figured out how many calories he had to have,” Liner said. “Of course it helps when you’re intelligent. He made it a high priority to get his body to that point. He didn’t go home and just eat french fries. He’s not from a super affluent family that just has millions of dollars. It’s easy for that kid. He’s had to find ways to do it.”
He came back in 2 1/2 months. He’d hit the weight room hard, changed his diet and grew a little.
“He stands on the scale at 285,” Liner said. “I’m like, ‘Well this changes things.’
“That was his purpose in life, to get some size so Carolina would offer him. And he did it.”