Former Kent State walk-on Pierce savors Senior Bowl experience

North squad tight end Casey Pierce of Kent State is looking to make an impact in Mobile.

Glenn Andrews/Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

MOBILE, Ala. – It was January 2010, and high school senior Casey Pierce had pretty much decided he wanted to attend Kent State University the following fall. Pierce had been thinking about playing football, too, so he put together a high school highlight tape and sent it to the Kent State coaching staff.

Five years, three Kent State head coaches, two years as a walk-on, a position change and 40 or so pounds later, Pierce is at the Senior Bowl this week trying to prove to the eyes of the NFL that he can help their teams win as a tight end, H-back, fullback or special teams player.

"I just need to prove that I’m versatile, that I’ll go the extra mile," Pierce said after the first day of Senior Bowl practice.

He looked the part on the field.

He knows about earning his way, too.

Pierce was a quarterback at Parma Normandy High School, south of Cleveland. He also played "cornerback, linebacker, safety, defensive end, wherever they needed me," on defense as a senior who was around 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. It was a week before National Signing Day when he thought he’d give football a shot if Kent State would have him, and the same day his highlight tape arrived at the Kent State football offices he got a call back.

There was only one open scholarship, though, and it had been promised to a junior-college linebacker. Div. II and Div. III programs had been calling Pierce, but he had pretty much settled on Kent State in part because his brother, Justin, was on his way to becoming student body president.

"So we chose different routes," Casey said. "Same school, just different ways to make it work. I liked Kent because it wasn’t too close to home but it wasn’t too far. I wanted a big school. I wanted to network, get to know people, enjoy the college experience."

FARMER AT THE SENIOR BOWL

By the time he reported for summer school and workouts, the coaching staff had changed its mind and wanted Pierce to try tight end instead of outside linebacker. Two years and a coaching staff change later he earned a scholarship and played for the first Kent State team to make a bowl game in 40 years, after another change of coaches he capped his career in 2014 with 60 catches, the most by any Kent State player in a decade, for 641 yards and six touchdowns.

He was a late addition to the Senior Bowl, invited just last week, and there wasn’t much thought required in accepting. Pierce simply asked where he had to be and when he had to be there. He flew to the Senior Bowl Sunday, measured at a shade over 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds Tuesday morning and an hour or so later was on the practice field with players from Ohio State, Baylor, Michigan State and Texas.

"I haven’t played football in two months and I feel like it," he said Tuesday. "But I’m excited to be here. I know the NFL wants a longer look at me and that’s exciting. I have to make these scouts like what they see."

Kent State had a late November game at Buffalo canceled by the monster snow storm that blanketed Western New York. Pierce said on the long bus trip back to Kent State after four days of waiting in Buffalo "I asked God for that one extra game, for a chance to play in an All-Star game, somewhere, and see how I stack up."

This week, he gets that chance.