Kennesaw State senior wideout Justin Sumpter watched as his phone repeatedly buzzed with notifications from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
His mentions were out of control with re-tweets and commentary following the Owls 42-28 victory over the Liberty University Flames. The emojis started flying as the text messages reached alarming levels. They all centered on the talented receiver from Sandy Creek High School because hours earlier he had broken the Internet with one play.
In the second quarter against Liberty, Sumpter hauled in a four-yard touchdown with a phenomenal one-handed snare. The catch was so popular it landed in the top spot on ESPN’s Top-10 highlight list.
“It didn’t really set in for me until the next day,” Sumpter said. “As a little kid, you always dream about being on the ESPN and having a number one play. When I first saw it, I was like this can’t be true.”
The catch is one of many accomplishments for Sumpter so far in his tenure at Kennesaw State. The senior has led the Owls in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns in each of his three seasons with the squad. He also set the school record with 187 receiving yards in a game against Duquesne and caught the first touchdown in school history. Sumpter is also the first wideout to have 100 yards and a touchdown in a game.
This season, Sumpter is back and looks to help lead the Owls to a FCS National Championship.
“It has been great setting the tempo for the next coming years and the receivers after me,” Sumpter said. “I am trying to set an example and become a model receiver for the years to come.”
Sumpter has come a long way since he last graced the gridiron at Sandy Creek. He has developed into a pure receiver and lethal scoring threat, and he admits it wouldn’t have been possible without the ability to learn from Patriot greats along the way.
“I was never in the feature role there, but learning from guys like Demarre Kitt, Kyle Wilson, and Jaquay Williams helped me grow as a player and get more understanding of the game,” Sumpter said.
With the Patriots, he learned how to approach each day with the appropriate intensity and how to put 100 percent effort on film. This has helped him get off to a strong start with the Owls. Now, he is passing on that knowledge to the younger guys on his team.
“I am working on little things like coming out of my routes quicker and being more flexible,” Sumpter said. “I am also working on my leadership roles and helping these younger guys get into the groove of things.”
This summer, Sumpter has pushed teammates to be more confident in their abilities. He stays consistent in offering encouraging words in the weight room, at practice, and in games.
Kennesaw State will try to repeat as the Big South Champions and advance further in FCS Playoffs. Last season in just the program’s third year, they gained national attention with a trip to the quarterfinals behind a formidable attack. They also got noticed for the famous “Turnover Plank” that is similar to the turnover chain that the Miami Hurricanes created.
Sumpter hopes to win the big one for his teammates that have become his extended family. As one of the program’s inaugural players, this season means a lot for him.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship,” Sumpter said. “I don’t think you can expect nothing more than that.”
The pursuit for a title won’t be easy. With teams like North Dakota State lurking as a premier dynasty, it will be a tough road. Yet, Sumpter believes his team will be ready. He is comfortable in taking on the added responsibility during the campaign.
“I am pretty much playing my role and that is kind of what I am used to doing,” Sumpter said. “It was a big change for me to be featured, as I am not really a spotlight guy with that pressure on me. Over the years, I have been comfortable taking on the challenge.”
Once the Owls’ season is complete, Sumpter will turn his attention to the NFL draft to add one final accomplishment to his ledger.
“I want to be the first person drafted from Kennesaw State,” Sumpter said. “I am also hoping to figure out what I want to do for my Masters and things like that.”
Sumpter begins his senior season against Georgia State on August 30.