The universe works in mysterious ways sometimes. Four years ago, I was a junior at Simpson College in Iowa and had just travelled to Gainesville, Florida for an internship with the Florida Gators Football Strength and Conditioning Department in the summer of 2018. It was a complete culture shock for me, being a small-town kid and hardly ever spent an extended period away from family to spending multiple months on my own across the nation.
While on campus in Gainesville, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the most renowned minds in the realm of sports performance while working with some of the best athletes I had ever seen. I began to understand just how big SEC Football was and got to see future NFL players work every single day, whether it be in the weight room, in the sprint lines, or on the practice field. I spent a lot of time personally working with the likes of Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, C.J. Henderson, Kadarius Toney, and so many more talented young men that would end up being selected in the NFL Draft.
Fast-forward to 2022 and Steelers Depot’s recent trip to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. When the players entered the conference room for the Media Breakfast Wednesday morning, I saw another former Gator and NFL hopeful RB Dameon Pierce walking amongst the media crowd, having strayed away from the rest of the players gathering in the middle of the room. Pierce was just an incoming freshman when I was with the program, and immediately stood out to me and the other interns as a physically gifted athlete, having impressive strength and power coming out of high school. The guy was squatting over 600lb for reps in our first phase of workouts that summer at age 17, an image I soon won’t forget.
Anyways, I approached Pierce to introduce myself as well as let him know where he needed to go, thinking he may not recognize me after being away from the program for several years. However, when I dabbed him up and shook hands, his eyes lit up and was a little bit in shock seeing me there on the media side of things in Mobile. We caught up quick before I directed him to the rest of the group, telling him I would catch up with him later in a one-on-one interview.
I met up with Pierce sometime later after talking to a few other prospects asking him about our shared experiences at UF as well as how the pre-draft process had been going for him thus far.
JH: Bro I know what’s up?
DP: What’s up man?
JH: So, I saw you coming in at Florida as a freshman, what has your maturation process been like going from a freshman working with Coach Savage’s workouts at 6am or whatever morning that you had come in and now being a senior having gone through that entire program? What has it meant from not only a football aspect on the football field, but also from a training aspect? How has that made you as a man as a football player?
DP: Oh man, you know, man, Coach Savage. You’re going to get everything out of him every day. You know, I tried to give him everything every day. I tried to match his energy. He’s a high energy guy and he kind of evolved me to the guy I am because, you know, I got a big personality. You know, he really let me be me while also meeting “The Standard” in the parameters of the program.
You know, just being a guy who’s developed from Day One. I have had all four years and just to see the growth that I’ve had as a person. The player you know, the physicality and growth there, he’s always amazing and that’s a great testament to Coach Savage. That’s one of “My Guys”. That’s one that’s one of the coaches I like to call on anytime for something funny, any advice, or anything in general. He’s going try to make a way to make it happen.
And as far as the maturation process goes, you know on my had Coach Knox and what he really taught me rose early. He was a guy who was in the NFL a couple years, he interned in the NFL and is someone who’s been SEC for 24 years. So, you know, just getting that knowledge from Coach Knox and soaking it up like a sponge has really helped me when it comes to this process. And that really translates everywhere, man because Coach Knox really set the terms. If you can’t protect the ball, protect the quarterback, you’re not going to last anywhere. So that was really my main focus coming here. And that’s one thing I want to prove teams.
JH: Absolutely. You kind of talk a little bit about the family aspect that you have with Florida Gators. You played a little bit with La’Mical (Perine) and, you had the opportunity to play with Malik (Davis) Tell me a little about those guys and just how there’s that stigma that “oh, you never carried the load at college’ but you know that can seen as a benefit for you walking in the NFL. You think that you’ve also been able to share your skillset to scouts into coaches what you can bring to the NFL?
DP: Yeah bro because man you know in the NFL, they’re going to have their guy obviously. You know especially guys like anyone else in this room you know, we are all guys who want to be starters as well. We are guys who got aspirations, but you know, the reality is, there’s going to be somebody there already that is doing the job at a high level and most likely you’re going to have to take that back seat but like I said man, taking that back seat isn’t always bad thing you know?
With me, I like to see the good in every situation. I like learning things. I like to take things from different players and apply to my game so like you mentioned earlier for Jordan Scarlett and Perine there man when I was the young guy, they helped me tremendously when it comes to playing ball, when it comes to learning plays, when it comes to just grasping concepts as a whole.
And you know the way they handled their business man, on and off the field. Those guys have been like great big brothers and me and when it comes to Malik, he’s like our family, like when we had Scarlett and Perine running the ball my first year meet and Malik said like, “That’s going to be us” so like it was never like a clear stater that carried the load. We knew that we were going to split the load.
We just wanted to make sure we cared. We didn’t care who carried the load but rather carried out our business and then that mindset trickled down to Nay’Quan (Wright) because he’s last one left on that backfield. Nay’Quan is a great kid. He’s levelheaded man he’s positive energy and he submitted to a faith that he’s going to be alright. He’s going to be a great player.
JH: Alright. So, you know Coach Tyrone (Smith) and Coach Harp (Bryant Harper) down there? They were both Pittsburgh boys and Coach J.O (Jeremiah Ortiz) grew up the Steelers fan. I cover the Pittsburgh Steelers as well. Have you been talking to the Steelers at all? Is there anything that you like about them like Coach Tomlin and now that Najee (Harris) is playing there? Have you had conversations with guys like Najee obviously with your matchups before in the SEC or anything like that?
DP: Y’all know about Najee man. He’s a great running back. Great dude. You know he’s funny as hell too haha. Najee kind of reminds me of me, you know? He’s a great personality, great football player, and one of those guys who just love football. But as far as talking to the Steelers man, I’m talking to a little bit of everybody man. Not really anything really heavy, basic introductions, nothing too crazy yet. Hopefully we’ll see later this week what they are talking about, but you know me I’m just here enjoying this process man.
JH: Absolutely. Last question. So, you talk about the benefit that Savage was for you in strength conditioning and how that’s made you better player but also by a better man. Now as you’re going through the pre-draft process, where are you going to maximize your training before you go to the NFL Combine in terms of making sure that you test the best that you possibly can as well as where are you working from a skill position standpoint, who are you working with to improve your overall game as a running back man?
DP: MJP (Michael Johnson Performance) and three hunnid! Quote me on that!
JH: Thanks man, I appreciate you.
DP: Appreciate you too, brother.
For me, being able to interview a former athlete as a strength and conditioning coach I had worked with for a full summer now as a media/draft analyst truly was a joy. Pierce embodied that work ethic and patience he mentioned in his interview, busting his butt every single day in the weight room as well as out on the field in attempt to get better as a player as well as be an asset to his team.
After completing Pierce’s pre-draft report and watching him down at Senior Bowl practices, you can see that he took the lessons Coach Savage and Coach Knox taught him to heart. He stressed ball security as a key coaching point, and he never put the ball on the ground more than once in any season in college. He mentioned the importance of pass protection at the RB position, and you saw that in drills in Mobile as well as his willingness as a blocker with the Gators, sticking his face in the fan and playing with great technique to keep the QB clean.
He wasn’t afraid to mention the fact that he did never shoulder the load in college, acknowledging that wasn’t the way they did things in their system and that each man had their role and were expected to execute that role to the best of their ability. Like many draft analysts, I still don’t understand why Pierce wasn’t utilized more on offense given his effectiveness both as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield when he did touch the ball, but he never complained. He was a core special teamer even when named the starting running back, running down kicks and punts and playing on return units.
Regarding his comments about the similarities between he and Najee Harris, I can attest personally that those similarities are quite true. Both guys are SEC backs who had to wait their turn in crowed backfield to make an impact on the field. Both have quirky personalities that can make joy of the situation yet are passionate about the game of football and lead by example both on and off the field. Both players won’t wow you with impressive straight-line speed but are deceptively shifty in space with the burst to get the corner as well as the physicality to simply run through you if you dare tackle them in the hole.
I cannot be more proud as a former coach, current analyst, and life-long fan of the man Pierce has become during his time in the Florida Football Program. He truly has his head in the right spot and knows what he needs to do to be successful as a professional at the next level. I understand that backup RB isn’t high on the priority of needs for Pittsburgh, but if I was in that Draft War Room come April, I would be banging the table for Pierce to be a part of this team.
He and Najee Harris would make for a great pairing in the backfield, already having a good relationship and is capable to play all downs giving his well-rounded skill set. He also is an experienced special teamer and could contribute immediately for Coach Danny Smith in that facet of the game. Most importantly, he would be a great addition to the locker room, having the personality and professionalism to embody what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. We’ll see if/when Pittsburgh decides to address backup RB this offseason, but regardless of if Dameon Pierce is that guy or not, I can say confidently he is going to make the team that drafts him better and I wish him nothing but success wherever he goes.