INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There was the mighty green machine of Glenbard West High School, a perennial prep football powerhouse just under 30 miles west of downtown Chicago, ready to mow down yet another opponent ahead of yet another season filled with state championship aspirations.
One season previous, sophomore free safety Alec Pierce watched as the Hilltoppers claimed their latest Illinois High School state title, eager to make an impact as an upperclassman as a wide receiver.
The 2016 season opener arrived, and Glenbard West handled Bolingbrook 17-7, but the lanky new addition to the wide receiver unit was nowhere to be seen. That is, unless, your binoculars were scanning the Hilltoppers sideline for No. 80.
“I didn’t start him week one his junior year because I felt like he needed more work on blocking and I had a senior ahead of him,” Glenbard West head coach Chad Hetlet told News 8. “I don’t think that lasted very long. Once he got on the field, he just started to work harder, harder, and harder. He wasn’t a guy who you would say, ‘He is going to be a big-time recruit.’ Alec wasn’t someone that anybody knew about.”
According to Hetlet, Pierce underwent a major physical transformation between his junior and senior seasons, but despite the extra work in the weight room and clocking 40-yard dash times in the high 4.3 to low 4.4 range at recruit camps, major Power Five conference scholarship offers were not coming in.
“People weren’t offering him, and it was absolutely shocking,” Hetlet said. “Cincinnati was his best offer, and, obviously, it worked out.”
Standing on the sideline until the middle part of his junior high school season is not something that the top draft pick in the Indianapolis Colts 2022 rookie class has brushed off.
“I still think about that,” Pierce told News 8.
In addition to a stellar football career at Glenbard West, Pierce played volleyball until opting to join the track team his senior year. The results were astounding for a first-year high school track athlete, finishing as one of the top jumpers in the state of Illinois in addition to making the state meet as a sprinter.
“If he continued to do track, he would have been an All-American (in college),” Hetlet said.
At Cincinnati, head coach Luke Fickell won big landing Pierce, who evolved from a special teams player as a freshman to one of the American Athletic Conference’s top wide receivers (867 REC YDS, 8 REC TD) as a senior.
Behind the scenes, Pierce found a way to complete a mechanical engineering degree, which typically takes five years, in just three and a half. He graduated this past December as the university’s first College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American honoree in over 25 years.
The Colts, in desperate need of wide receiver help following a late regular season collapse in 2021, scooped up Pierce in April in the second round of the NFL Draft with the 53rd overall pick.
“He is really smart,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said following Wednesday’s training camp practice at Grand Park.
“Our group as a whole is really smart. I have been on a lot of skill groups. This skill group right here, I appreciate Chris (Ballard) because we just make that a priority. We want guys with a lot of skill, speed, strength and big size, but you’ve got to be smart – just because I grew up under Marv Levy and he used to always say, ‘Smart players with good work ethic always find ways to keep getting better and better.’”
Pierce’s steady start to his first NFL training camp was highlighted this past Saturday by a deep ball down the sideline from quarterback Matt Ryan. A sold-out training camp crowd of 7,000 roared, and Pierce reminded everyone why he is on a clear track toward a starting wide receiver spot in Indianapolis as a rookie.
Despite the early accolades surrounding his summer on the field, Pierce admitted there is still a long way to go to gain the trust of a 15-year veteran like Ryan.
“He (Ryan) is just a tremendous leader, and I think I have to do a better job of winning him over,” Pierce said. “I have to get on the same page as him, and that is what training camp is for.”
Where does this work ethic start? Just take a look at the Pierce crew.
Mom (Stephanie) and dad (Greg) met at Northwestern University, where both played for the Wildcats. Stephanie Pierce was a middle blocker for the volleyball team and Greg transitioned from quarterback to tight end for the football program.
Together, each of their three sons has reached NCAA Division I collegiate athletics, with the oldest, Justin, playing three seasons of basketball at William and Mary before being recruited as a transfer by former legendary North Carolina head coach Roy Williams to Chapel Hill. Justin Pierce played the COVID-19 shortened season with the Tar Heels before embarking on a professional career overseas in Finland.
The youngest Pierce son, Caden Pierce, joins the Princeton basketball program as a true freshman this upcoming season.
Together, they are keeping an eye on updates at Grand Park, including the recent advice passed to the rookie by his new receivers coach, future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Reggie Wayne.
“I told him before the night practice, ‘When you go out there and when you touch the field, just raise your hands up and take a deep breath,’” Wayne said. “You’re going to mess up; even the vets mess up. Just play.”
Unlike his season debut as a junior at Glenbard West, it appears Pierce will get to do just that September 11 in Houston against the Texans to open his NFL career.