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Delaware's Pierce is back for less
The most prolific freshman season in University of Delaware football history behind him, Andrew Pierce hopes to be even better when the Blue Hens begin preseason camp early Monday morning.
His UD coaches have no doubt he is capable and determined.
But what’s best for the Blue Hens and their young tailback, they say, is that Delaware should have to call on Pierce a bit less this season.
That, they hope, may enable him to be even more productive than in 2010, when he set a slew of freshmen records.
“The last thing I want him to say,” running backs coach Gregg Perry said, “is, ‘Last year I rushed for 1,600 yards. This year I’m rushing for 2,000.’
“There are no standards that he has set that he has to rise above from last year. We just want him to lead by the example of his efforts and his talents and play as hard as he can play and accept where that falls when the season is over.”
Pierce is expected to help Delaware again be a contender for the Colonial Athletic Association and NCAA FCS titles. Last year, Delaware tied for the CAA crown with William & Mary and lost the national title game to Eastern Washington 20-19.
In 15 games, Pierce rushed for 1,655 yards on 329 carries – a 5.0-yard average – and 14 touchdowns. He needs 355 yards to become Delaware’s 14th 2,000-yard career rusher, but the first to reach that milestone as a sophomore.
His 110.3 rushing yards per game led the CAA and the nation’s freshmen. He also caught 32 passes for 199 yards and three TDs.
But after Pierce carried the football an average of 22 times per game last year, often out of sheer necessity, Delaware hopes to reduce his workload. The ability of his backup, former starter David Hayes, and the improved depth that comes from sophomore Walter Davis and red-shirt freshman Malcolm Yowk out of Caesar Rodney High feeds that premise.
Even so, Delaware expects to put considerable trust and reliance on its running game early as it breaks in a new starting quarterback, likely Trevor Sasek or Tim Donnelly, behind a proven, senior-laden offensive line.
Pierce is ready.
“I’m going to have a lot attention on me, because [All-American quarterback] Pat Devlin’s gone and we have a new quarterback,” he said. “I know my offensive line worked as hard as they possibly could this offseason. Just having them, and being able to find the holes and to score touchdowns for my team, that’s all that matters to me is winning. Nothing else matters. None of the accolades. Just winning is what matters to me.”
Giving him a chance
Humility comes easy to someone from whom little was expected. But, in Pierce’s case, it just comes naturally.
He was largely ignored by Division I college recruiters, with only Delaware caring enough to encourage him to come. Delaware defensive line assistant Frank Law had gotten wind of Pierce, who’d rushed for a record 4,537 yards at rural Cumberland Regional High in Bridgeton, N.J. He showed videotape of him to UD coach K.C. Keeler.
“I couldn’t believe no one had jumped on board and gotten involved with him,” said Keeler.
Having already awarded two scholarships to running backs in the high school class of 2009, Davis and Leon Jackson, Delaware made a deal with Pierce: Go to community college in the fall of 2009, then come to Delaware in January and we’ll see what you’ve got in 2010 spring practice. UD coaches even found some scholarship money for him, sensing he was deserving.
“We told him, ‘We’ll see if you can play at this level of football,’ ” Keeler said.
One practice into spring football, they knew.
“He’s everything that giving an opportunity to a young man is all about,” Keeler said. “He’s special.
“He’s really like coaching a senior. He doesn’t make mistakes protectionwise. Great patience when he runs the football. Great vision. Great work ethic. Team guy. And my goal is to give him less carries this year.”
On July 24, Delaware had its one-day football camp that is basically a tryout for potential prospects. Pierce, last year’s CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, an All-American and National Freshman of the Year, had a job to do.
“His job was to hold the door. He held the door,” Keeler said. “And he did it for two hours straight, and he said, ‘How you doin’?’ He wasn’t like, ‘I was rookie of the year in the entire country, Coach.’ We don’t care, and he doesn’t care either.”
Perry, a former UD back, also appreciates that Pierce never comes off as being “privileged” and is as diligent about his schoolwork as he is his football preparation.
“He doesn’t waste any time,” Perry said, adding it’s a quality Pierce’s fellow UD backs share.
Of course, the quality most important to Delaware’s demanding fans is what happens when Pierce has the football in his hands. There, he’ll rely less on his speed and more on a low center of gravity and strength that make him tough to tackle.
“His will and his soul and his spirit when he runs the ball are there,” Perry said. “He is a very defiant running back. He wants to stay on his feet.”
Pierce’s teammates have taken to calling him “Superstar” or “Megaman.” Not surprisingly, Pierce is uncomfortable with that, or anything that makes him the center of attention or casts him in the spotlight, despite the affection it represents.
Whatever gains he makes this year, Pierce will certainly only measure them by the team’s success.
“I just got to get better,” he said, looking ahead to his sophomore season. “That’s all I want to do every single year.”
By KEVIN TRESOLINI, The News Journal