Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Wesleyan's Eric Sunderman has turned from a specialist into a standout for the Wolves. Sunderman played as a kicker, turned offensive threat at wide receiver and played quarterback for a bit for the Wolves.
NORCROSS -- From the start, Eric Sunderman loved soccer.
Like most these days he came to the game early and found plenty of success in goal. Even now, he calls soccer his "main sport." But specialization is rare at Class A Wesleyan. Even its biggest and best athletes don't shun other sports to concentrate on a career in one. So when Sunderman got to seventh grade, he broadened his horizons and joined the football team.
As a kicker.
"I started kicking, that's how I got into it and then I fell in love with it," he said.
By his freshman year, Sunderman was the varsity kicker, standing off to the side during practice, kicking away and coming on the field when called. He kept excelling in soccer along the way.
But this summer, after stopping his year-round soccer schedule, Sunderman got aggressive, expanding his horizon one more time.
"I played goalie so I figured I may as well come out and start catching a football, it's like catching a soccer ball," Sunderman said. "I came out here halfway through the summer and started catching and kind of stuck with it."
He took to catching just like everything else, he excelled. His athleticism even got him playing time at quarterback for two games after the started went down with an injury. Throwing was OK, but Sunderman missed his routes.
"Once our quarterback got hurt in the Elbert County game the coaches pulled me aside and said, 'We want you to start training at quarterback.' At first I was kind of shocked because I had never really played football before, I was a kicker, but that's not really football," Sunderman said. "I liked it, it was fun, but I would much rather play receiver because I am better at it. Our starting quarterback is a lot better than I was, so it's a whole lot better for the team."
In his two games at quarterback, Sunderman was 24 of 38 for 188 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Not bad for, as he says, a kicker. But the coaches' trust of their soccer convert are a testament to his smarts and athleticism. The senior isn't sure if he'll play either soccer or football in college. He wants to be a doctor.
Right now, he just wants to catch passes.
"I love wide receiver, it's my favorite position," Sunderman said. "I get to be out there more than when I go to kick the ball. I have more control of helping the team score."
Even with a two-game catching hiatus, he entered this past weekend in the top 10 in Gwinnett County with 361 yards on 21 catches. He averages more than 17 yards per catch and last week against Pace Academy he burnt the Knights with his feet, scoring on completions of 15 and 24 yards.
And after each one, he stayed on the field and knocked through the extra point. Sunderman is tied for third in the county with 29 points scored with his foot.
With his time spent making big catches, the kicking, like the man who usually does it, has become a second thought. Becoming an every-down player transformed Sunderman from the team's kicker to a full teammate.
"It was nice because I felt like I was more part of the team. I used to go kick off to the side, but now I am a lot closer with everybody now that I am playing wide receiver," Sunderman said. "Getting to be one of the captains is a major step for me.
"I wasn't really treated badly, but now I am treated better, playing wide receiver. I get to hang out with the guys more, I am more a part of the team than I was before."