Mental strength keeps DeAndre Pierce optimistic after injury-riddled seasons

Pierce excelled when healthy, but injuries kept him off the field in consecutive years

Following his sophomore year at Boise State, defensive back DeAndre Pierce was an All-Mountain West honorable mention with aspirations to work his way up in NFL Draft conversations.  

Two years marred by injuries and a transfer to a new program haven’t derailed that dream or the ASU graduate transfer’s belief in his abilities. 

“I always knew what I was capable of,” Pierce said. “I knew where I was going.”

Pierce’s injury woes began in 2018, coming off of an impressive sophomore campaign. He was leading the team in tackles through four games when he suffered a ruptured spleen against Wyoming that would keep him out for the season. 

Pierce had “never really been hurt” before, and although he was able to redshirt for the season and didn’t lose a year of eligibility, it was a painful experience.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through,” Pierce said. “I think the frustrating part about that was just the fact that I couldn't rehab it. A ruptured spleen isn’t something you can go into the training room for.”

Unable to do any physical activity for three months, Pierce embraced a role as a mentor for the other safeties, including the redshirt freshman who would be filling in at his spot. 

“I'm making breakdowns. I'm making cut-ups,” Pierce said. “I had to teach them everything that I knew, so hopefully, they could use that and still be successful.”

In 2019, Pierce returned to the field and, in his season debut, suffered a stress fracture to his left fibula that kept him out for a month. At the time, Pierce’s reaction was to “thank God this one wasn’t season-ending.”

Yet, after four games back on the field, a collision with a teammate compounded the fracture, ending Pierce’s second consecutive season prematurely. 

“It brought to my eyes that football could be taken away at any moment,” Pierce said. “You always hear that, but (with) what I went through over the past two years, I really kind of got to see that and experience that.”

In need of a change of scenery, Pierce turned to ASU, where he was attracted by the higher level of competition and a coaching staff filled with former NFL figures, including his father and co-defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce.

“I needed to be pushed, and I needed to take a bigger risk and make more of a jump to get to where I want to be,” Pierce said. 

In chasing those goals, Pierce, who only stands at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, has continued to rely on his brain. 

“I knew I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest,” Pierce said. “That’s why, on the mental side, I was always trying to be the sharpest.”

The same cerebral edge that made Pierce an asset to his teammates at Boise State when he was injured has already been on full display at ASU. 

Offensive coordinator Zak Hill, who coached at Boise State while Pierce was on the team and is known for his deceptive use of pre-snap motion, said Pierce has consistently anticipated offensive play calls in practices, to the point that sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels consults him between series to see what’s tipping him off. 

“He knows a lot of stuff we’re doing,” Hill said. “He’s a really headsy, smart football player.”

Beyond Pierce’s value on the field, Antonio Pierce said that, after a rough couple of years, his son is grateful to be healthy and playing the game he loves again. 

“I think he’s back to having fun,” Antonio Pierce said. “(Football is) a kid’s game. You love to do it, and when it’s taken away from you, it hurts."

DeAndre Pierce said he knows that, as he pursues his NFL dream, he may be “red-flagged” by teams at the combine due to his injury history, and that he took a risk in coming to ASU. 

But, to him, the same faith that has him back on the field suggests no past incident or perceived long odds are insurmountable. 

“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will,” Pierce said. 


Reach the reporter at cbreber@asu.edu and follow @carsobi on Twitter.

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