Jun 13, 2011, 4:09 PM EDT
2011 CAA Football Spring/Summer Feature Series
By Zach Burrus, CAA Communications (photos by Mark Campbell)
Andrew Pierce had something to prove. The Delaware sophomore running back was overlooked by many coming out of his prep career at Cumberland Regional High School in New Jersey. Blue Hen head coach KC Keeler was not about to take a pass on Pierce, however, as he saw the untapped potential in the Bridgeton, N.J., product that many other coaches had failed to recognize.
Keeler was undoubtedly vindicated in his decision. Few student-athletes make such an incredible and immediate impact on their teams as did Pierce, who had one of the greatest seasons by a Delaware runner in program history. He rushed for 1,655 yards and 14 touchdowns on 329 carries in addition to catching 32 passes for 199 yards and three scores en route to setting school records for carries in a season, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns in a season and yards rushing in a game (200 vs. Duquesne) and a season.
Pierce definitively proved himself as one of the nation’s top rookie rushers with 110.5 yards per game and by finishing the year ranked second among rookies in all-purpose yards (123.0 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (6.8 points per game). His 1,655 yards rushing marked the second highest single-season total in program history.
His long list of accomplishments on the field resulted in numerous awards for the one-time walk-on. Pierce was selected as the CAA Rookie of the Year, ECAC Rookie of the Year and Phil Steele National Freshman of the Year. He also earned All-America honors from Steele and College Sporting News and was just one of two freshmen nationally to be named All-Americans by The Sports Network.
Pierce acknowledges he was a bit surprised by the extent of his postseason accolades, saying, “It was a surprise because I didn’t know how I would adjust to college football life and how hard it was going to be. It was really both a blessing and surprise.”
He adds that being named the New Jersey Sportswriters Association’s College Running Back of the Year has been his greatest accomplishment thus far because he “felt that being recognized by the sportswriters as representing the state was a great honor.”
With extensive accolades often comes mounting pressure to perform. Rather than focusing on any such outside pressure, however, Pierce is more focused on his team and what he needs to do to help the Hens get back to the top again this season.
“I’ve now established myself as someone who is a leader, and I feel my role is to go 100% and do whatever it takes for the team to win every time I step onto that field. I just believe that if we work as hard as possible and do whatever we can possibly do this summer in camp, then we can have another great season. I just want to bring my team to the top and help the team work as hard as we possibly can to get to where we want to be this season.”
Where the team wants to be is back in Frisco, Texas, and playing in the FCS Championship game for the second consecutive year. After the title eluded the Hens by a mere point this past season, the team is hungry for a return trip to the Lone Star State. Pierce explains, “Once you get a taste of it, you want to get back. I know this team has a bad taste in its mouth right now. We’ve been working throughout the winter and throughout spring ball with that bad taste in our mouths. We want to get back. That experience is something that you’ll never forget. We have a great team this year and we can get that bad taste out of our mouths by having a wonderful season and getting back.”
Few will count Delaware out as a contender for the national crown in 2011. Nevertheless, a return to the playoffs means the squad will have to find similar success amidst an ever-rigorous CAA schedule. After earning a share of the conference title a year ago, Pierce and the Hens know fully well the level of play the team must bring week in and week out this fall.
“In the CAA, it’s like a championship game every game. We have to play lights out throughout the conference season to get back to where we want to be. A lot of teams are great, but I believe that we can pull it out this year and have a great season. We just need to work harder than anybody else in the conference and bring a lot of fight because every game is going to be a tough out.”
Despite any dreams he and the Hens may have for the coming season, Pierce understands the team’s need to take one game at a time. Yet, this certainly has not stopped him from setting his sights on life after college. A fitness management major who hopes to one day open his own gym, Pierce says his first priority is obtaining his degree. Yet, there is no doubt in his mind that he wants to continue his upstart football career in the professional ranks. He says, “My biggest goal is to make it to the NFL. It’s something that I would love to do. It’s a dream and hopefully I will get a chance to fulfill it.”
NFL or not, one person who will always be there in Pierce’s corner will be his grandfather. Pierce says his grandpop is a big part of his personal drive and what has led to his substantial success in the sport.
“My grandpop has been a true role model to me. He fought cancer for two years and has served as a great inspiration in my life. He was always there and always believed in me. I don’t think he has ever missed a game. When I was younger he always took me to practice and I used to make him take me to games two hours early so we could throw the football around. We didn’t have to be there early, but we did it anyway.”
In addition to Delaware’s tradition of excellence in academics and in football, Pierce says staying close to home was an important factor in his decision to come to UD. He explains, “For him [his grandpop] to be able to come watch me play college football and to see him in the stands now watching me do something that I’ve dreamed about for so long is really cool. Him being there inspires me to play my best.”
His grandpop has never ceased to believe in his grandson’s abilities on the gridiron. And anyone who has seen Pierce play would dare not disagree that he is going places in the sport. Something just tells me that in a few years his grandpop is going to have to travel a bit farther to see him play.
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