Like many kids growing up, Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce wanted to be an NFL player. He was on the receiving end of advice that focused on chasing realism over aspiration. Unlike many kids, Pierce is on the verge of realizing those dreams. As he prepares for his date with destiny, the Cincinnati wide receiver is about to prove any doubters wrong as one of the most explosive pass-catching talents in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Alec Pierce on the verge of realizing his dream at the 2022 NFL Draft
“Growing up as a kid, I remember every year watching the draft,” Cincinnati’s Pierce reflects during a recent interview with Pro Football Network. “It’s something that I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little kid. When you’re a kid, they ask you to write down what you want to be when you’re older, and everyone writes down NFL or NBA player, and teachers are like, ‘ok, not all of us can be NFL players. ‘ But, I’m really about to live my dream. It’s awesome. “
In a deep wide receiver class, Pierce is peaking at the right time. Having been the leading pass catcher during an incredible season of success for Cincinnati, he’s aced the process with impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. His excellence di lui at the latter event, another he describes as something he’s watched since he was a kid, shouldn’t be surprising.
After all, Pierce has been drawing attention for his athletic prowess since the early days of playing football for Glenbard West High School. Ahead of the 2021 college football season, he was listed on Bruce Feldman’s Freak List – a who’s who of insanely athletically gifted football players and usually a good indicator of who to watch out for when the NFL’s annual “Underwear Olympics” rolls around.
“They’re going to see a really athletic, good football player,” Pierce smiles coyly as we speak before the NFL Combine. His prediction of him held true. The Cincinnati standout led all wide receivers with a 40.5 ″ vertical jump, a measure of explosiveness. Pierce also ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, remarkable for a player standing at 6’3 ″ and 211 pounds.
Pierce hails from a family of outstanding athletes
There’s a well-known phrase that reads: “Your athletic ability isn’t written in your genes, it’s written in your daily routine.” While Pierce has crafted and honed his athletic prowess from being a kid, a high school track star, and ultimately his ascension di lui to a prospect on the verge of the NFL, athletic heritage can be found coursing through his family roots di lui.
Stephanie Pierce – Alec’s mother – was a volleyball player for Northwestern. His father di lui – Greg Pierce – was a standout football player for the same program. Meanwhile, Alec’s two brothers – Justin and Caden – have pursued athletic journeys of their own. While it may not be written in the genes, the parents’ encouragement to follow an active, athletic lifestyle early on has almost certainly contributed to Pierce’s continued success by him.
“They’ve been a huge influence. They got me playing all types of sports. Sports were huge. We grew up playing everything. I was in organized sports for football, basketball, started playing volleyball, ran some track. Sports were the thing I loved doing the most. I loved competing, whatever sport it was. They were a big part of that. They encouraged it because it was where they’d come from, what they knew.
“I think I was gifted with a lot of natural athleticism,” Pierce continues. “But I was also super competitive, and it made me want to get better. While some kids might have been out there taking it lightly, I was always going hard and focused, locked in, and wanting to win. That’s probably how you get better as a kid. “
A father / son coaching relationship that continued even at Cincinnati
While the family influence helped Alec focus on sports at a young age, a fatherly influence helped fuel not only his love for the game but also provided technical support. The coach and player relationship is often described as being like a father and son. But, for Greg and Alec, the two relationships merged during Pierce’s early football career.
“He’s been a great help,” the Cincinnati wide receiver reflected on their relationship. “He coached me growing up in football. I always thought he did a great job in coaching me. Some guys have their dad coach them, and they get like – we call it “Daddy Ball” – where they want their son to be the quarterback, touching the ball, being the most important player.
“He was really good with that. I was always a talented player, played running back, but I’d only get a couple of touches a game. He made sure all the other kids got it. He was a really good coach, and a huge part of me loving football was that he coached me in it. “
While his dad instilled his love of the game at a young age and helped coach an athletic talent into an excellent football player, the younger Pierce would turn to his father as the disruption of the global pandemic threatened to derail his 2020 season.
Pass from G. Pierce, complete to A. Pierce
“He played quarterback at college for his first couple of years. So, over quarantine, I had him out there on the field. I couldn’t get a quarterback. At this stage, you were not supposed to hang out with anyone, see anyone, so I had him throwing to me. We’ve always thrown out in the backyard, but I had him throwing proper routes to me. It was fun to do. “
A grin had accompanied the story of the offseason workout. However, it breaks into a wide smile and a chuckle as we talk about some pro comparisons for his father’s arm strength di lui, described by Pierce as “not quite where it used to be.”
Having played with the strong-armed Desmond Ridder during his Cincinnati career, it might have lacked some of the juice Alec has become accustomed to. Still, he offered a flattering pro comparison for the former Northwestern star.
“He’s not quite Desmond,” Pierce laughs. “I guess you could say he’s like a Tom Brady at the end of his career. He’s just getting better with age. “
Pierce talks position transition during his high school career
Having played running back early in his career and heading to the NFL Draft as an ascending wide receiver prospect, it’s easy to assume that Pierce has spent his entire career on the offensive side of the ball. However, early in his high school journey at Glenbard West, he was focused more on breaking up passes with his physical approach to the game rather than reeling them in.
“I grew up playing defense, played safety a lot. Loved flying around and hitting and tackling people. I played my first two years as a safety. We had a freshman and sophomore team, and my junior year, I wanted to play on varsity, but we had a good player at safety. They were looking for a wide receiver, so I saw the opening.
“Fortunately, I had just grown a bunch, almost grown out of the safety position. I was about 6’3 ″, 6’2 ″ – tall and skinny. That’s not the best build for a safety. So, I started playing receiver that year and never looked back. I found that I had a talent and natural ability for that position and carried on from there. “
The talent translated to on-field production. During his junior season, his di lui first di lui at the position, Pierce tallied over 800 receiving yards. Furthermore, 25% of his catches of it resulted in touchdowns. While he could be considered a late bloomer on the high school recruiting stage, the future Cincinnati receiver made up for lost time with over 20 offers from schools nationwide.
Wide receiver influences and catching attention
As he developed as a pass catcher and into a college athlete with Cincinnati, Pierce drew from a wide range of pass-catching archetypes for inspiration. His list of wide receiver role models reads like a who’s who of NFL greatness at the position. As a Green Bay Packers fan, the list starts unsurprisingly and ends with a pass catcher who tormented the Packers for years.
“Jordy Nelson was my favorite receiver. I really liked Randy Moss. They were probably my two favorite receivers growing up. Then, as I got older and started studying wide receivers, I liked Julio Jones’ game a lot. Any of the bigger receivers, guys like DK Metcalf, who are big and athletic and are able to stretch the field and high-point the ball. Big Larry Fitzgerald fan, probably one of the greatest ever. Calvin Johnson, too, big fan of his game. “
Big, athletic pass catchers who are able to stretch the field and go up and high-point the ball. It’s easy to see the influences on Pierce’s game when you turn on the tape. While all those are apparent now, one particular aspect of his game di lui helped him stand out during the recruiting process as he departed Glenbard West.
“The first school that came in to talk to me, they pointed out a kid that I was going against. And they were like, ‘oh, we had this kid come to our camp, and he ran a fast forty’ and I’d just blown past him on a deep ball. So, they were like ‘oh, this kid has legit speed, he’s legit.’ “
Pierce is a legit speed threat at the next level as he prepares for the NFL Draft
Pierce’s speed is there for all to see on tape. His 4.41-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine is a testament to it. While it’s become one of the calling cards of his game by him, it’s always been there. At high school, he was a star in both 100m and 200m. The Cincinnati wide receiver reflected on those origins during his interview with Pro Football Network, acknowledging that speed alone won’t cut it at the next level.
“It’s huge. They say you can’t teach speed. You learn quickly that some guys just have that extra gear. If you just run by people, there’s some guys that just can’t guard you. Everyone is going to be fast at the next level, everyone is going to be athletic. So it comes down to that technique. Trusting your technique, getting as good as you can be. Because everyone was a track star at high school when you get to the next level. “
Through four seasons with Cincinnati, from starring on special teams as a freshman to leading the time in receiving yards as a senior as the Bearcats challenged the college football elite on the way to an appearance in the College Football Playoff, the biggest test and challenge of his speed and technique has come on the practice field against teammates Coby Bryant and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
“It’s been a blessing, you know. Iron sharpens iron. We go out there, work with each other every day and make each other better. I credit them as to why I’ve had so much success. Because, you know, going against them makes everything so much easier when you go out in a game. Both of those guys are really talented players, I’m excited to see where their careers take them. “
Opening eyes and realizing dreams
All their careers, from Gardner to Bryant, Ridder to Pierce, and many more Bearcats beside, are headed in one direction – the NFL. Having gone against the best of the best in practice and at the biggest stage of college football, what does Pierce think he brings to the next level in a deeply talented 2022 NFL Draft receiver class?
“I’m an elite vertical threat. Someone who can get down the field and make plays, whether it’s burning people with speed or going up and getting the ball. I’m a red-zone threat in that same way. Also, I think I’m someone that’s got underrated route-running ability. I learned a lot of little crafty moves and techniques to get open. That’s something that I’ll be able to open eyes with at the next level. “
From the practice fields to the highest level of college football, Cincinnati has provided highs and lows for Pierce. The disruption of the 2020 season, not just from the global circumstance but with personal injury, “put things in perspective. It showed you nothing is guaranteed. ” However, his time of him with the program has also shown him that dreams can be realized.
“It was awesome, everything I could ever dream of. Playing in the CFB Playoff was a really cool experience, something I can tell people about for the rest of my life. It was really everything we’d been dreaming of, working towards, from at least the start of the season but really going back a couple of years ago. “
With the knowledge that dreams can be realized, Pierce heads to the 2022 NFL Draft looking to realize another. One that he was once told might not be attainable.