Pierson-El Stronger, Better And Ready For Final Go
By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
De'Mornay Pierson-El smiled at the question about his health, probably because it hadn’t already been asked at the midway point of his post-practice interview on Thursday.
“I knew that was coming,” he said.
Pierson-El continued, in earnest.
“I’ve felt the best I’ve felt in a while,” he said. “My legs, stronger, better. I feel faster, feel quicker. I’m just ready to play and have fun.”
If that all holds true, Pierson-El figures to finish his career the way he began it – flashing his electric, explosive athleticism to give the Nebraska special teams, and offense, a significant boost.
Never mind the "what-ifs" and "could’ve beens" that jumped on Pierson-El’s back the last two seasons.
He’s now a senior.
“It went fast. It’s kind of weird,” Pierson-El said. “This place has been home for the last four years, and it's just like, ‘Wow, this is my senior year.’ It came up on me fast. I’m going to enjoy it and have fun.”
Pierson-El repeated those last words often, nipping any impressions that he’s feeling pressure or has something to prove.
That won’t be his approach.
Pierson El is loose, calm and poised.
Oh, and he’s healthy, too.
“He’s moving around good, and he looks ready to roll,” Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams said.
What’s more, Pierson-El is suddenly the leader of a wide receivers room that lost three redshirted seniors from last season.
But for the many young, talented receivers joining the fray, Pierson-El is the one they’ll seek for guidance and tips. He’s happy to oblige, already doling out nicknames. He calls Tyjon Lindsey “Slim Jim.”
He’s not certain why.
“It came out of nowhere,” Pierson-El said.
Among the young crop of receivers, Lindsey seems mostly likely to see playing time as a true freshman. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf called Lindsey an explosive route runner with good hands.
“He is what he thought he was in terms of talent, no question,” Langsdorf said. “He’s a smart kid, picking up things well.”
Such praise brings back memories of four years ago, when coaches and players lauded a true freshman for his speed and playmaking ability in fall camp.
Sure enough, Pierson-El exploded on the scene. His 596 punt return yards as a freshman topped the nation by nearly 200 yards, and his three punt returns for touchdowns tied for the national lead.
He hasn’t had one since.
A grueling leg and knee injury midway through Pierson-El’s sophomore season sidelined him the remainder of the year, and it even slowed him going into his junior season, when he decided against a redshirt.
Slowly, Pierson-El began showing signs of his old self – he had a 45-yard punt return against Oregon – yet he never consistently gained yardage. Opposing teams strategized like mad when punting with Pierson-El on the field. He operated with little to no space.
Now, with new assistant coach Scott Booker helping guide the special teams, Pierson-El is eager to see some new wrinkles in the punt return game that could give him more freedom.
“He’s shown me a few things,” Pierson-El said. “He’s got a couple of things up his sleeve.”
Offensively, it’s taken until Year Three, but coach Mike Riley and his staff feel the screen game is finally on-par to where it should be for this offense. Pierson-El should factor into that, as well as the jet sweep, seemingly a sleeping giant of a play.
Pierson-El, with 55 career receptions and 686 career-receiving yards, has also developed a strong chemistry with first-year starting quarterback Tanner Lee, who earned the job after sitting out a season as a transfer from Tulane.
“We’ve been throwing a lot over summer, but honestly, when we first got to camp, it was just there,” Pierson-El said. “It came pretty natural. I know where he throws, he knows where I’m going to be. It’s just pitch and catch.”
In general, Pierson-El called the quarterbacks “phenomenal,” and that offensive players are comfortable and know where they’re supposed to be.
“It’s well-oiled,” he said.
A perfect fit for a healthy Pierson-El.
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.