Kansas State wide receiver Ernie Pierce tried to warn people, they just chose not to listen. On multiple occasions, the senior could be heard telling reporters not to be surprised when they laid their doubting eyes on his name at the top of K-State's initial depth chart. All the signs were there. So now, the 209–pound senior can't help but chuckle when told many were taken back by something he's known for several weeks.
Usually the California-born wide out isn't one to say 'I told you so', but, in this case …
"I told you a few weeks ago, but I understand why I was overlooked," he said. "When the new guys are coming in, and everyone is looking at Rivals and looking at the stars, that happens. It never actually bothered me though. All that is for the fans. I'm here in this organization, and the coaches and the players knew what I was doing. That's what matters to me."
So when Pierce, who caught just six balls as a junior in 2007, took a pass from junior quarterback Josh Freeman 98 yards to the end zone during a practice two weeks ago, everybody the receiver wanted to witness the play did.
Sure it was just one play in one preseason practice, but it was the kind of play Pierce didn't so much as dream of making as a junior.
"It was tiring," Pierce said. "I kinda wished I didn't run that far because I had to come back and line up again. It was more than just that one play though. If you could go and watch film, you would understand. I'm completely not the receiver I was last year."
What's the difference? Well, it would be painless to point to the full year of Division I experience he now has under his belt, but Pierce isn't so quick to take the easy way out.
In fact, the senior contends his limited production a year didn't have much, if anything, to do with the transition to major college football. Pierce says he's a completely different player this season, and he'll never forget the day the light bulb went on. In fact, the wideout can pinpoint the exact moment.
An extended offseason, much like the one Pierce and his teammates were forced to endure, can be one of football's great motivators after all.
"It was December, when I was back at home watching some of my other friends at different colleges play in bowl games," Pierce said. "One of my friends, Darrell Mack, plays tailback for Utah. I was watching him. I was just sitting at home watching that. I'd never had a break that long. Day after day, you kind feel, for lack of a better word, useless. I wanted to come out here and let people know that I'm going to get the job done as a senior."
The Santa Barbara (Calif.) Community College transfer says he didn't come to K-State to be a situational receiver and feels he may have settled for being tagged as such during his first season in a Wildcat uniform. Somewhere along the line, however, that stopped being good enough. Now, the same guy who seemed content with just being on the practice field, and ecstatic when it came time for him to momentarily check in on Saturdays a year ago, is now calling himself a "game-changer".
"I'm the go-get-it guy," he said. "Wherever you put the ball, I'm gonna go get it."
So why the new attitude? Well, it's easy to chalk it up to the cliché' year of experience, but then again, sharing a room with undisputed sultan of smack talk probably didn't hurt matters either.
"I lived with Deon Murphy (during camp), and we talked a certain way to each other. He rubs off on you. He'd tell me every day. 'I'm going to be watching you. You better not drop any balls, because if you do, I'll let you hear about. I'll call you out for it'. For the time we lived together, he challenged me to get better every day."
After clearing a spot for himself at the top of the Wildcats' depth chart, it's recently become obvious Pierce was quick to answer Murphy's challenge. K-State head coach Ron Prince may not have beat his senior wide out's progress down the media's throat this offseason, but it's now abundantly clear that even if it wasn't broadcast to the world, Pierce made a significant splash, and it's not as if he did so against some scout team,
"He's made a lot of very difficult catches in training camp," Prince said "He can make catches over in (cornerback) Josh Moore's area. When somebody does that, it gets my attention. During training camp, he really distinguished himself, but he's also had a good summer and a good offseason."
But don't just take Prince's word for it.
"He's working hard," Moore said. "He's gotten better in almost every way. He's a better route runner. He's more consistent with his catches. He's just got an all-around game now. He's gotten faster too. Ernie is like a different player."
These aren't minor tweaks. And as surprising as it may be to some, Pierce's name has shot up the depth chart at lights peed for a reason. Fans should see the change first hand in due time, however, as the wide receiver contends the difference will be both tangible and noticeable. According to him, this under-the-radar talk is mere days away from coming to an abrupt halt.
"Fans will look out there and be like 'that's not just another wide receiver on the depth chart anymore,'" he said.