Pierce looks to shed fragile label

(David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

Some could argue that Bernard Pierce is the Mid-American Conference’s best player. Others might claim the Temple running back is the conference’s most-fragile athlete.

It’s hard to disagree with both labels.

Pierce is recognized as the Owls’ best ground gainer since Paul Palmer wore Cherry and White in the mid-1980s.  

Palmer holds Temple’s career rushing record of 4,895 yards. Pierce ranks sixth all-time with 2,089 yards. The 6-foot, 218-pound junior is 1,172 yards shy of surpassing Tanardo Sharps (3,260) for second-place on the Owls’ career list.

But when it comes to injuries, Pierce might be Temple’s career leader.

The two-time All-MAC selection missed considerable time due to injuries. 

 He was sidelined the final two regular-season games of his freshman season with a shoulder injury. Pierce reaggravated the injury late in the second quarter of the EagleBank Bowl against UCLA in Washington.  He didn’t return.

After rushing for 1,361 yards as a freshman, Temple promoted him as a Heisman Trophy candidate last season.

The hype died before the first game.

Pierce suffered a head injury in training camp and opened the season as the backup.  The Ardmore native later had hand, hamstring and ankle injuries. As a result, Pierce started just five games before sitting out the finale with an injury.

He still had a productive campaign, scoring a team-best 10 touchdowns to go with 728 yards.

“Obviously, Bernard has to stay healthy and that’s all part of the physical and mental toughness,” Temple first-year coach Steve Addazio said. “And football is a grind and that’s what he’s got to learn as he grows up and gets older here. He has to learn how to play through some of those things. That’s his goal.

“He’s a dynamic player. So I’m sure that he will have a great season.”

Pierce is determined to play in all 12 regular-season games. He only expects to leave the field for breathers.

“And not just for me, but for my team,” he said. “When you are on the sidelines and you can’t contribute to your team, it is a helpless feeling.”

He admits the Heisman hype contributed to last season’s injuries. Believing what was being written about him, Pierce had a lackadaisical work ethic.

“It was like, ‘Oh, I’m in the spotlight. I can relax,’ ” he said. “That’s what it was like.

“I wasn’t taking care of my body, wasn’t eating right and wasn’t sleeping right.”

Pierce said he’s long past those days.

He even dedicated the offseason to becoming stronger, faster and living healthier.

Pierce and Temple can only hope that translates into his first complete season.

-          Keith Pompey