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Piekarski Makes Impact at Duquesne
Engaged and ready to excel, Richie Piekarski is active on many fronts whether it be on the football field, basketball court or in the classroom.
A 2010 graduate of Hudson, Piekarski is doing a little bit of everything at Duquesne University, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program located in Pittsburgh, Pa.
As father Rich stated, “Richie literally went to football camp in August last year and really never came home.”
That’s because Piekarski is a rare two-sport college student-athlete at Duquesne.
The redshirt sophomore football player also walked on the basketball team last year as well.
This fall, Piekarski started the first game of the year at free safety for Duquesne.
It’s a young football program and Duquesne’s first scholarship class comprises a good portion of the sophomore and junior classes. However, Duquesne is on the rise on the gridiron.
In his first six games, Piekarski had 33 tackles, five pass breakups and two tackles for a loss.
In the Sept. 29 last-second come-from-behind 24-21 win over St. Francis (Pa.), Piekarski had a career-high seven stops and a pass defended for the 4-2 Dukes.
Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt is very high on the former Explorer.
“Actually, Richie was ready to go and play last year, but we had a fifth-year senior [and team co-captain] there,” he said. “He gained great experience and we knew he would step in right away this year.”
Piekarski’s first start was in the opener this season in a big loss to Old Dominion (Va.) before almost 20,000 fans.
“It was so exciting and a great experience,” he said. “Old Dominion was ranked fifth in the country for Division I-AA, but they will play Division I next year in the Conference USA. That’s huge.”
As for hoops, Piekarski was a standout four-year player and point guard on Hudson’s basketball team. He averaged nearly 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists for the Explorers.
Basketball for the Dukes is a bit different than on the gridiron as Duquesne plays big-time college hoops in the Atlantic 10 Conference. He began practicing with the basketball team on Nov. 21 — two days after the season finale against Robert Morris (Pa.) last year.
“I think basketball actually was my first love,” said the business management major, who is a junior in the classroom.
The articulate Piekarski became the first football player since Jeremy Conley (2001-02) to walk on the Duquesne basketball team.
He played against Houston Baptist in his lone game last year with two assists and an offensive rebound. The Dukes were 16-15 last year.
However, Piekarski is not exactly sure how he will fit in the basketball program under first-year head coach Jim Ferry.
Ferry, who led Long Island University Brooklyn to its second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth last year, was named head men’s basketball coach on April 12.
“The demands of being a student-athlete are very hard and it’s a challenge to play two sports, that’s for sure,” he said.
“The hard part is time management, but I try to just be as organized as I possibly can.”
Two of Piekarski’s uncles, Bill and Dave Piekarski, played basketball at Duquesne. Bill played from 1974 to 77 while Dave played for the Dukes’ freshmen team. Another uncle, Gene, also graduated from Duquesne.
Piekarski, a Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan, knew the family connection on his father’s side as he made Duquesne his college choice.
“He had very long hair for football last year and when deciding to play basketball, he got a buzz cut,” said his father. “He donated all of his hair to Locks of Love.”
Last year on the gridiron, Piekarski played in a secondary that was the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the country for Division I-AA. He played in the Dukes’ nickel and dime packages.
In 2011, Duquesne (9-2) had a share of the Northeast Conference championship (7-1) and Piekarski earned a championship ring.
Piekarski also played on special teams and was the holder for kicks, scoring two points on a fake extra point. Piekarski had a game-clinching interception against Bryant University.
“I worked extremely hard in the offseason,” said Piekarski, who is 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds.
“I worked on conditioning and in the weight room and in regular workouts.
“It was great to come home to Hudson and have some workouts as well,” added Piekarski, whose teammate at Duquesne is Hudson resident Dane O’Driscoll, a freshman who played at Walsh Jesuit.
In fact, Duquesne has a great tradition in its secondary as former Cleveland Browns’ player Leigh Bodden (2003) is a grad.
Senior Serge Kona is an All-American strong safety and may spend time in NFL camps.
“We have built up a pretty strong tradition in the secondary here in the past,” said Schmitt. “Our other safety, Serge Kona, will have an opportunity to reach an NFL camp.
“Richie has a lot of talent too. He makes plays and he’s our quarterback on defense. He puts people in the correct positions, communicates and is very vocal. He is rarely out of position and takes good angles.”
As a third-team All-Ohio choice and the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division’s Most Valuable Player in 2009, Piekarski ended his career as Hudson’s all-time leader in passing yards (2,094) and total offense (3,377).
Schmitt also sees the entire package is the Hudson grad.
“Richie is a great athlete with great ball skills, and a player with great football intelligence,” he said. “What makes Richie so great is that he is a great young man off the field as well.”
by Steve Batko, Huson Hub Times