When running back Andrew Pierce was a freshman at Delaware, he participated in the Football Championship Subdivision national title game. And even though the Blue Hens lost to Eastern Washington, 20-19, Pierce thought that it was only the beginning of many postseason runs.
Now a senior, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound former walk-on and high school standout at South Jersey's Cumberland Regional has yet to return to the postseason.
That is his No. 1 objective. The fact that Pierce is close to several records at Delaware and could be an NFL draft pick are topics he'd rather think about after the season.
"After playing in the national championship my freshman year, I wanted to go back and win it and really thought we'd be back to the playoffs," said Pierce, who rushed for 1,655 yards and 14 touchdowns his freshman year. "It makes you appreciate how much work it takes to get there."
During Pierce's sophomore season, the Blue Hens were 7-4. They slipped to 5-6 last year, one in which he was never totally healthy. Even though Pierce averaged a career-best 5.1 yards per carry, he missed two full games and wasn't 100 percent in others because of hamstring and knee problems.
Now he says he feels great and is looking forward to his final season while playing under a new regime.
After last season, Delaware replaced coach K.C. Keeler with Dave Brock, who was Rutgers' offensive coordinator.
The new coach immediately discovered what his predecessor saw in Pierce.
"AP is kind of the face of the program," said Brock, whose team plays Thursday against visiting Jacksonville. "All I heard about and saw about him in the past six to seven months, now I know why because he is a terrific football player on top of being a great person."
Pierce has led Delaware in rushing in his each of his first three seasons. During his career, he has rushed for 3,637 yards and 34 touchdowns on 747 carries and caught 79 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns.
Pierce is 950 yards shy of the school record of 4,587 rushing yards held by Daryl Brown (1991-94).
"My goal is to win every game, and for me to think about individual accomplishments is wrong," Pierce said. "Right now, my focus is to help get this team back to the playoffs."
Coach: Dave Brock (first season).
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association.
Last season: 5-6, 2-6 CAA.
Top returning players: Andrew Pierce, Sr. RB (703 rushing yards, 5.1 avg., 4 TDs), Trent Hurley, Jr. QB (1,964 yards passing, 10 TDs, 14 interceptions); Bobby Kennedy, Sr. OG (preseason all-CAA); Michael Johnson, Jr. WR (41 rec., 441 yards, 4 TDs); Zach Kerr, Sr. DL (4.5 tackles for loss); Jeff Williams, So. LB (61 tackles, 6.5 sacks).
Key newcomers: Jordan Thomas Jr. CB (transfer from Rutgers); Diante Cherry, Fr. WR; Eric Enderson, redshirt Fr. P; Connor Bozik, redshirt Fr. OL.
Outlook: The Blue Hens, who host Jacksonville in their opener Thursday, were picked to finish sixth in the CAA preseason poll. But they have the ability to do much better and can't be discounted as a contender for an FCS playoff berth. Brock will bring a more fast-paced offense, and with Pierce leading the way, the Hens should be among the top running teams in the conference. Hurley threw four more interceptions than TDs last season, and that will have to be reversed. The toughest part of the schedule comes in November, so the Blue Hens will have a chance to gain some momentum and confidence before a difficult final month.
29 Jacksonville 7:30
7 Delaware State 6
14 at Navy 3:30
21 Wagner 6
28 James Madison 6
5 at Maine TBA
12 Albany 3:30
26 at Rhode Island noon
2 at Towson TBA
9 William & Mary noon
16 Richmond noon
23 at Villanova TBA