KSU tight end to participate in annual Senior Bowl today


Casey Pierce leaps over Akron’s Martel Durant at the Wagon Wheel game on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014 at Dix Stadium.

Richie Mulhall

The Kent State football team’s disappointing 2014 campaign might be a season to forget for many, but not for tight end Casey Pierce.

A trying 2-9 season — accompanied by its share of losses — might have overshadowed optimism at times, but it surely didn’t eclipse or undermine Pierce’ efforts, as evidenced by his most recent accomplishment.

Pierce, who registered 60 catches and grabbed six touchdown passes for the Flashes this past season, was selected to compete in the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 24, at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

With the selection, Pierce becomes just the third Kent State football player in program history to receive the honor of playing in the Senior Bowl.

Just one of two Mid-American Conference players chosen, Pierce will wear No. 87 and play for the North team battling against the South team.

Reese’s Senior Bowl

Date: Saturday, Jan. 24

Time: 3 p.m.

Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama

Watch: NFL Network

Kent State tight end Casey Pierce will play for the North team as No. 87.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m., and can be seen on NFL Network, according to the kentstatesports.com.

The 6-foot-4, 242-pound redshirt senior started his career at Kent State as a walk-on in 2010. After being redshirted and spending two seasons learning the Flashes’ offensive system, he became a top target for sophomore quarterback Colin Reardon by his junior year.

In 2014, Pierce established himself as one of the elite tight ends in the nation, leading the Flashes’ receiving core with 641 yards catching and six touchdown receptions.

His 60 catches broke the Kent State record for catches by a tight end in a single season (47). The feat also marked the most grabs by a Kent State player since 2004.

Now preparing to enter the NFL Draft and begin his professional football career, Pierce finished his collegiate career with 97 receptions and 11 touchdowns, ranking 11th and eighth in the categories, respectively.

Pierce’s successful football career didn’t just start in college, either. A graduate and product of Normandy High School, Pierce finished his four years as an Invader with 22 touchdowns, bolstering 1,400 yards rushing, 1,500 yards passing, 125 tackles and three interceptions. He earned first-team all conference honors twice in football, and made the GCFCA Cuyahoga County East-West All-Star Game as a senior.

Q & A with Kent State tight end and Senior Bowl selectee Casey Pierce

Pierce arrived in Mobile on Sunday night and immediately began practicing with the North and South teams the next day. The Kent Stater was able to catch up with the North all-star via phone call and talk to him before the big game Saturday.

Here’s what the Parma, Ohio native had to say:

The Kent Stater: So as I’m sure you know, you’re one of just three Kent State football players in program history and one of six tight ends in the country to be selected to play in the Senior Bowl. How excited were you when you heard the news?

Pierce: You know what, it was a huge blessing. I was kind of down on myself because I thought I deserved to be in one of the all-star games, and they were all about said and done. And you know the Senior Bowl is the place to be after your collegiate career, and I didn’t think I was going to get into the Senior Bowl; but I thought I would make it to another one, but yet again just what an opportunity for me. Someone’s watching over me from above, whether it be a fallen teammate, a grandma and grandpa, an uncle, but I think they’re all pulling for me up there, and glory to God. I’m making the most of the opportunities, and it’s been going great.

The Kent Stater: And what was your family’s reaction to you being selected as well, that was probably pretty fun for them, too?

Pierce: Yeah I was blown away, but they were probably more excited. They were really excited. They’ve been praying about it, they’ve been thinking about it, and they always knew it would happen. My life is kind of on repeat. I’ve been the underdog in high school. I didn’t get recruited very much — except for Kent State at the last second — but I didn’t get into the all-star game in high school either, and to this day of the East-West All-Star Game, from my city a quarterback got injured, so I ended taking his spot on Tuesday of that practice week. Then we played the game on Saturday, and I got the MVP for the game, so that was pretty cool. It’s just doing that cycle all over again. It’s pretty crazy and mind-blowing.

The Kent Stater: Do you think it’s kind of crazy how all of that ended up working out? You don’t think that something is going to happen and then the greatest thing that could possibly happen, happens?

Pierce: Right, like I said I went from no all-star game, not on the map, overlooked to performing well here, and now every team knows of me, has seen my film. I think they like me, and I’m really raising my draft stock, and it’s an awesome experience. It’s something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life and the rest of my career.

The Kent Stater: So talk about that high school all-star game when you were named MVP? What all-star game was that for?

Pierce: It was the Cuyahoga East-West All-Star game. It was like for northeast Ohio. I was brought in to replace a quarterback that got injured.

The Kent Stater: That’s really cool. So just being a part of this Senior Bowl, what’s it been like for you getting to travel all the way to Alabama and being with really some of the greatest players around the country?

Pierce: Yeah, I mean it’s a business trip. Literally. Every minute of the day is taken up by doing something really important — whether it be getting picked for practice, meeting with (NFL) scouts, having one-on-one conversations with players, getting our sleep as much as we can, studying our playbooks, eating the right foods and as much food as we can so we can recover, just maintaining our weight and physical build. Almost every hour we’re doing something, and we rarely get time to ourselves. It’s the first step to our new career, and this week, I think, we all truly feel like we’re a part of the NFL right now. We’re on their schedule, and this is a week in the NFL for us.

The Kent Stater: Even though you’ve only been in Mobile a few days, what kind of scouts have you been able to meet with, and have you formed any bonds with any of your teammates so far?

Pierce: Yeah some of these guys are so cool, and the tight ends and I are really close. We study the playbook every night, joke around, have a great time, so myself and the other two tight ends became really good friends; and hopefully these relationships will last through our careers, and we can lean on each other whenever we need to. As far as the other guys I’m training with, I’m creating bonds with them. The guys I’m going one-on-one with every day, we’ve talked a lot, we’ve had some fun.

But with the coaches, it’s tough man. Mike Mularkey is my tight ends coach here. He has taught me so much and found the right way to motivate me and get me going, so I’ve really cleaned up on a lot of my techniques. He really knew how to get me going, and this is a test this week for all of us, so it was my best effort, and I think I’m performing very well.

The Kent Stater: So these tight ends that you’ve been buddying up with, what are their names and where are they from? And then also, where is your tight ends coach from and what role has he played in your experience so far?

Pierce: My tight ends coach, Mike Mularkey, he’s the tight ends coach for the (Tennessee) Titans. He played in the NFL for nine years, and he’s been coaching for a long time, I think 15-20 years. He’s a really good guy.

And then the two tight ends, Ben Koyack from Notre Dame and Nick Boyle from Delaware. There’s a couple of other tight ends on the South team, but I’m really close with the North tight ends. We’re always together, and we’ve done everything in our power to help ourselves out.

The Kent Stater: So the scouts you’re working and trying to impress, so-to-speak, what kind of scouts are those?

Pierce: Well they’re all for NFL teams. Out of 32 teams, I’ve probably talked to about 26. You can talk to coaches, scouts, head scouts, regional scouts, you can just fill out a survey — all of the above. I’ve talked to probably four or five tight ends coaches, which is probably the greatest conversation I can have because that’s the guy you’re directly involved with and that’s the guy who has the most to scoop you up during the draft and the most say on your career. Some of the scouts ask a lot of the same questions, but as long as you’re true to yourself and genuine and honest, the conversations go really well. I think they like me just because they know I’m talking from the heart. I’m not scripted. I tell them everything here.

The Kent Stater: Are there scouts of any teams in particular that are looking at you and really seeing what you bring to the table?

Pierce: Yeah I’ve had conversations with multiple teams who have shown a lot of interest in me more so than others, but I’m really confident. Before this whole situation, I was kind of under the radar, you know some teams and some coaches had never even heard of me even though I was top three tight ends in the nation. I think people in media and public relations are really helping me get my name out there, but before this whole process, I was probably a seventh rounder or free agent, and now I think I’ve pushed myself into the draft, so it’s been a great experience.

The Kent Stater: Now I know you referred to yourself as an underdog and obviously the team this past season was a really big underdog. You guys had a really rough season. Does making it to something like this, getting to the Senior Bowl, getting the recognition, getting your name out there, does it cap it off in a really good way? Because you guys finished the season with the big win over Akron, which was a good way to end the season and now this. So how did it all come together so well at the end?

Pierce: Coming to this game is the ultimate cherry on top of a collegiate career, no matter what, whether your record is good or bad. There’s nothing more that a college player would want. I was told this is more important than the Combine, this is where you’re actually playing football. People can see what you do in between the lines … on the football field. If they like you, they’ll find it here, and I think that’s what’s really going to help me.

The Kent Stater: Now I know I talked to you and some of your teammates at the beginning of the season when you painted the rock after Jason (Bitsko’s) passing just how rough the year it was going to be, so would you say also that Jason’s looking down on you right now as you compete in this game?

Pierce: He sure is. I think that’s one of the key pieces for why I’m really here. He’s living through me right now, and he’s helping me. He’s given me so much. From above, he’s the angel on my shoulder looking over me, and I can say that about a lot of people up in heaven. But he really hits home because he’s such a great person. No one wants to ever go 2-9 and have a game canceled because of weather, which is really difficult for me because I feel like it reflects my leadership of the team, which kind of hurts me because I think I was a better leader to the guys. And I think that felt that way about me until the 2-9 season, and I think that leadership is key for a successful team, but we were in every game, hanging in every game. We just couldn’t finish. It was a rough ride, but those guys are young, and I think they’re going to be really successful in the future.

The Kent Stater: I know you’ve talked a lot about the support of these young teammates in the past, but it sounded to me like you have a pretty supportive family, too, so who’s going to go to the game to watch you play?’

Pierce: Throughout the season, I was the guy asking everyone for tickets because I have such a big family, and they’re all so supportive, love me. At the Ohio State game, I had 92 people come and take a charter bus. Down in Mobile, I believe I have nine or 10 people coming, which is awesome and humbling because I had an elite invite, so they had to purchase pretty expensive plane tickets. So they’re just so proud, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they want to be here for it and share in the moment with me.

The Kent Stater: Do you think you might have another MVP moment coming up or any predictions for how Saturday’s game’s going to go?

Pierce: You know I haven’t told anyone that story because if it did happen — and I want to hang my hat on it — I don’t want to jinx myself, so I’m not going to say.

The Kent Stater: OK I gotcha. Now I know earlier you talked about this game getting your name out there. If you do end up playing in the NFL some day, do you have a team that you’d really like to play?

Pierce: No, you know some people answer that question with “I want to go somewhere warm,” or “I want to go to my hometown team.” For me, I have zero top choices. I want to go to a team that needs me, wants me to be there and that the depth chart is right. I don’t want to go to a team where they’re stacked with young tight ends, and they’re just bringing me in to be a body. I want to go somewhere where I can contribute, play all special teams and help the team out while having a sustainable career for years and years down the road.

The Kent Stater: Well I know a lot of NFL players from Kent State like Julian Edelman and Josh Cribbs have had really successful careers, so would you like to follow in the footsteps of these Kent State guys that are living the dream so-to-speak?

Pierce: I think that’s a pretty easy question, you know, who wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of someone who’s a great athlete, great player, great person, so the obvious answer is yes, I would love to do everything they have done and more.

The Kent Stater: I know some guys who graduate from college target the NFL. Has this always been the plan for you? Have you always had this goal of getting to the NFL?

Pierce: I think every young kid says it when they’re young. When they’re 3-10 (years old) and the teacher asks what you want to be when you grow up, you write down NFL athlete. And back then I thought it was a possibility, and as you get older, it starts to become more.

The Kent Stater: I mean even as a college athlete, once you really started to get into it, is that really when you thought about it?

Pierce: I would say after my junior year was when I really started thinking about it. In my first couple of years, it never crossed my mind. I was planning on plan B, but after my junior season, I looked at it and said let’s see how this senior season goes, and we’ll see what I can do.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].