Temple demotes Pierce to second string
SO HOW'S THAT pricey Bernard Pierce-for-Heisman campaign going so far? It could well be that Pierce, Temple's dynamic sophomore tailback, will justify the hype (and the cost of those billboards) by putting up even more impressive numbers than he did as a freshman, when he rushed for 1,361 yards, scored 16 touchdowns and led the Owls to their first bowl appearance in 30 years.
SO HOW'S THAT pricey Bernard Pierce-for-Heisman campaign going so far?
It could well be that Pierce, Temple's dynamic sophomore tailback, will justify the hype (and the cost of those billboards) by putting up even more impressive numbers than he did as a freshman, when he rushed for 1,361 yards, scored 16 touchdowns and led the Owls to their first bowl appearance in 30 years.
But for now, just 12 days before Temple (9-4 in 2009) opens its season against defending Football Championship Subdivision titlist Villanova (14-1) in the second annual Mayor's Cup at Lincoln Financial Field, Pierce finds himself in an unusual position for someone who is the very public face of the program.
OK, so the days Pierce missed from preseason drills after suffering a head injury of undetermined severity in practice 2 weeks ago contributed to his current place behind another soph, 5-5, 170-pound Matt Brown, on the depth chart. Temple coach Al Golden declined to call Pierce's injury a concussion. But it's not as if Brown is not a threat in his own right; he gained 529 yards a year ago as Pierce's primary backup and averaged 5.9 yards per carry, a smidgen better than his more heralded teammate's 5.8.
But Golden, the fifth-year coach who apparently isn't inclined to cut corners even for would-be All-Americas, wants more from his players than impressive measurables and a thick wad of press clippings. He puts a high value on mental and physical toughness, on an individual's ability to reach down inside himself and find that quality that makes a difference on third-and-1.
Right now, the diminutive Brown - who in 2009 had 172- and 156-yard games against Ohio and Kent State, respectively, while Pierce was recovering from a shoulder injury - is No. 1, if for only because of the durability factor.
"Bernard will be the first to tell you that Matt should be first [string] right now," Golden said yesterday at Temple's Edberg-Olson Hall. "Matt hasn't missed a down - not one play the whole training camp."
Being available to practice daily is a requisite for moving up the ladder in the Golden scheme of doing things, and it has worked pretty well as the Owls have risen from Mid-American Conference doormat to this season's preseason favorites to win the league title.
"That's the way we operate here," Golden said. "It doesn't matter who you are or what your status is. That's the rules of our team and the values that are important to us."
Pierce, Golden noted, returned to practice several days ago and looked sharp while taking part in about 25 plays during a Friday intrasquad scrimmage.
"Unlike some guys that would pout, he didn't do that," Golden said of Pierce's likely temporary demotion. But every repetition missed in practice as the season opener nears is a missed opportunity to make up lost ground.
"When Bernard had his shoulder [injury], we'd put him out there in a gold jersey and he'd do everything but get tackled," Golden noted. "You can manage things a lot easier during game week than you can in training camp. In training camp, you're trying to get the whole team ready, to get them mentally tough and physical, with endurance and stamina, those type of things."
So is Golden trying to send Pierce a message?
"Only because we love him and because he has tremendous talent," Golden said of his 6-foot, 218-pound star. "Like I said to him, there's a lot of kids out there that don't have your talent. They're being told they're too small or too slow or they don't make anybody miss.
"Those are gifts that have been bestowed on Bernard. The things he needs to fix are things that come with maturity, with choices and a mind-set, an attitude. We have to develop that."
Senior tight end Vaughn Charlton has been the Owl most affected by the heat, which is perhaps understandable since the converted quarterback added nearly 30 pounds - he now weighs 252 - since switching positions in the spring . . . Junior offensive lineman Sean Boyle (shoulder), soph linebacker Matt Falcone (anterior cruciate ligament) and redshirt soph wide receiver C.J. Hammond (knee) each suffered a season-ending injury since preseason practice commenced on Aug. 7 . . . Temple announced it is planning to redshirt 24 players. *