Pierce has chance to be all-time great
Running back goes from unknown to freshman phenom in just a few games
Published: Monday, January 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, January 10, 2011 02:01
FRISCO, Texas — Last year, a small figure was a popular sight at Delaware football practices. The players and even a few coaches did not know who this kid was. He would go to all the games and sit in the stands just like any other fan. Nobody could predict, least of all Andrew Pierce, just how big of a role he was going to play for the Hens this year.
Fast forward a year and the kid is known to everyone. The gray-shirt freshman running back has broken just about every freshman rushing record at the university.
"I always had the mentality that I wanted to do my best," Pierce said after the semifinal victory over Georgia Southern. "I was given the opportunity to come here and it was so emotional to think about everything that happened to me before I got here."
Not recruited out of Cumberland Regional High School in Bridgeton, N.J., Pierce was unsure if he would be able to play college football. The Hens staff liked what they saw in Pierce, but had already offered two running backs scholarships and did not have room for another. So Head Coach K.C. Keeler and the rest of the staff got to figuring out how to get Pierce to Delaware.
"It's a little sensitive to walk on as an out-of-state student, so we put a plan together," Keeler said. "He took a county college class, just to kept himself fresh. He worked out, got a job, and would come to every ballgame and just sit and dream about playing some day in that stadium."
Spring semester, Pierce enrolled at Delaware and participated in spring drills, thoroughly impressing Keeler and his staff. He was named the starting running back in the summer, which came as a surprise to fans who were still unfamiliar with Pierce's running style. After 1,655 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, the five-foot, 11-inch 200 pound back now has a reputation as one of the best in the CAA.
In his first collegiate game against West Chester University, Pierce rushed for 119 yards and a score. He would not look back from there. In his second game against South Dakota State, he went for 165 yards and a touchdown and then capped it off with 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Duquesne.
The following week at Richmond, Pierce had one of his most impressive games of the season. In his first road game, he rushed for 114 yards, but also scored three important touchdowns and showcased his hard, physical running style by barreling over defenders and breaking through tackles.
Pierce went on to break the freshman rushing record for yards and touchdowns. He also caught three touchdowns this season, including one game-tying score against Villanova with less than 30 seconds to go. Although, he later fumbled in that game to give Villanova the victory, he was able to move forward and credits this team's senior leadership as the main reason for his success this year.
"The 17 seniors that I have by me and [Pat Devlin] and [Anthony Walters] and [Matt Marcorelle], they're just great and they show me a lot as being a freshman," Pierce said. "Hopefully, I can carry that on to when I get to be a senior one day and be able to be a great leader, just like these guys are."
There were some worries from fans and even Keeler that Pierce's body would tire as the season got longer, but once the playoffs started, Pierce put any doubt to those thoughts to rest. Against Lehigh, he rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown. In the quarterfinals versus New Hampshire, Pierce got 90 hard-earned rushing yards that helped the Hens keep possession in a low scoring game.
He exploded for 186 rushing yards against Georgia Southern, a number that surprised even him. Although he did not score in the game, his yards helped the Hens run the clock down effectively and set up the clinching touchdown by his backup, sophomore David Hayes.
Pierce again turned heads in the championship game, going for 142 yards on the ground and scoring the opening touchdown of the game. Even though the Hens ended up short, Pierce knows there are things he can take away from the pain of coming so close.
"I mean, it hurts," he said. "But we gotta get back to work as soon as we get back, and I know it's going to be our momentum going into winter and the spring and summer. So hopefully we can get back here next year."
Statistically, if Pierce keeps up this pace, he might go down in history as the best running back to ever put on a Delaware uniform. The current rushing record is held by Daryl Brown, who played from 1991-1994, with 4,587 yards. If Pierce averages anything more than 977 yards on the ground per season over the next three years, he will break that record. His 1,655 yards this season, were second most by a Delaware running back in a year, trailing only Omar Cuff's 1,945 yards in 2007.
Cuff also holds the rushing touchdown record with 65, which might be too far out of Pierce's reach, but if he keeps up these types of performances, anything is possible.
Not too bad for that kid on the sideline.