CONNECTING STUDENT ATHLETES WITH COLLEGE COACHES
Jerry Trickie, NCAA.com
FRISCO, Texas -- The first part of the story is pretty common: small school, few heralded athletes, little exposure. Most kids move on and just give up any dreams of playing college ball let alone making it to the professional level.
The interesting part is where Andrew Pierce’s storyline changes.
Following his senior season at Cumberland Regional High School in 2008, Pierce didn’t have many options despite his success. The Bridgeton, N.J., native rushed for a school-record 4,537 yards in his career, including 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. He also guided the team to its first two state playoff appearances.
Still, the college offers weren’t flowing in the door for the 5-foot-11, 200-pound running back.
“My high school was very small and not too many athletes came out,” Pierce said. “I had a few schools looking, but they didn’t really want to take that chance because they didn’t know what kind of athletes were produced at our school.”
Pierce, who didn't have any academic issues that would hold him up, thought his football days may be over. But he still wanted an education and wanted to play so much that he even contemplated putting off a four-year school and attending community college.
“At the time of recruiting, it was very emotional for me because I wasn’t getting looked at, and I really wanted to go to school to get an education and I didn’t know if I was going to play football again,” Pierce said.
All he needed was a place to do both.
Step in K.C. Keeler, head coach at Delaware since 2002. Keeler saw something others didn’t and was willing to give Pierce a chance.
“Coach Keeler came into the office at the high school and was like, ‘I want to give you an opportunity. It seems like a lot of other schools didn’t offer you and I’m going to give you an opportunity.’ So he actually came up with the plan of [being] a grey shirt, which is actually what I did.”
Keeler thought Pierce could help the Blue Hens, but Delaware had already given out two scholarships to running backs for that recruiting class. Pierce was so enamored with UD he even toyed with the idea of paying his own way and walking on in 2009 until Keeler presented the grey shirt plan.
Instead, Pierce bought in. As a grey shirt, he would wait to enroll in the second semester in February of 2010. Then he could join the team for spring practice and have all summer to get up to speed before his first season. He would also have all of his eligibility remaining and have a chance to earn a scholarship down the road.
“We put a plan together and he took a [community] college class to keep himself fresh, he worked out, got a job and would come to every [home] ball game,” Keeler said. “He would just sit and dream about someday playing in that stadium.”
A lot of his dreams are coming true at a faster pace than most expected. Despite the longer route to get to this point, Pierce said the extra experience has paid off in ways he never dreamed.
“It’s been amazing. [The season] has definitely been a dream come true,” Pierce said. “I know sitting out that year was very hard for me but also humbling. Just to come in in the spring time and get in tune with the team and work out and do all the plays, it really helped me for the summer so I could come in and just do what I had to do [in the fall].”
What he did was set records.
Pierce ran for 1,513 yards this season to rank 15th nationally (108.1 ypg). He led all freshmen this season in rushing and carries (301; third nationally overall), and set the Delaware freshman record for game (200 vs. Duquesne) and season rushing. His season total was more than double the previous record.
“I always give my glory to the linemen because without them, I wouldn’t be able to do nothing,” Pierce said. “It’s just been an amazing season for me.”
Pierce wasn’t the focal point of the offense. He had the luxury of playing in the same backfield with an All-America quarterback in Pat Devlin, who some feel will be playing on Sundays in the near future.
“Pat is just great and he helped me out a lot,” Pierce said. “In the spring when we got together, we were doing a lot of plays and going at it [but] it was still a little hard for me trying to pick up the signals and the stuff we do off the sideline and he helped me out a lot with that. It has just been very easy with him back there.”
It’s hard not to think of Pierce as a success story, even after just one season of college ball. He’s following a similar path as other successful grey shirts at Delaware, like Siddiq Haynes, who has been a starter for two years on the defensive line and was recently named the captain of the AFCA Good Works Team for his community service.
Pierce hopes to make a similar story during his career and wants to share it with others. His hope is to show kids they can achieve their dreams if they continue to work and reach for what they want, both on and off the field.
He said he’s even thinking about writing a book with his family about how he reached his goal once he was given an opportunity.
“Just to give a story back to my high school, just to go back and talk to them and tell them my story, I would love to do that,” Pierce said. “Just go around and tell everybody, ‘You might not get a shot out of high school but you can get into any college if you work hard. And just given the opportunity, when you get that opportunity, you can go and shine and do what you love to do.' ”