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November 12, 2009

Freshman Pierce carrying load for Temple

MORE: Golden working miracles at job no one wanted

Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, Oregon's LaMichael James and Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams justifiably have garnered plenty of attention while rushing for 1,000 yards as freshmen.

But no freshman running back in the country has made a bigger impact than Temple's Bernard Pierce.

Pierce ranks third in the nation -- behind only Fresno State's Ryan Mathews and Stanford's Toby Gerhart -- with 1,211 rushing yards. He already has rushed for nearly twice as many yards as any other freshman in school history.

So how did he end up at Temple?

"He had a number of schools recruiting him, but Temple was the school investing the most time in the young man," said Kevin Owens, Pierce's football coach at Concordville (Pa.) The Glen Mills School. "It seemed they really wanted him to become a part of the program."

Pierce's off-field problems had caused him to land at Glen Mills, a residential school for court-adjudicated males 15 to 18 years old. Pierce has told reporters he was involved in a fight as a sophomore at Ardmore (Pa.) Lower Merion, and charges were filed.

He spent two years at Glen Mills and turned around his life.

Pierce, who wasn't available for interviews this week, told the Philadelphia Daily News that the person "who did those things isn't the same person I am today. People can change. I've changed. I had to change. If I didn't, who knows what would have happened to me? I wouldn't be here in college, playing football, I'll tell you that."

Owens said Pierce was "very immature in some ways" when he arrived at Glen Mills. But by the time he left, "he became a young man who had direction in life. He knew he wanted to be a good student-athlete and not just a football player. He wanted to make his family proud of him."

Temple recruited Pierce by pointing out it could provide the type of discipline and support his family wanted. Temple's coaching staff also spent enough time at Glen Mills to confirm that Pierce had indeed matured during his last two years of high school.

"We knew more about Bernard than any program out there," Temple coach Al Golden said. "We spent a lot of time at Glen Mills getting to know his high school coaches, the head coach, the administration, the guidance counselors, the custodians -- anyone who could speak to his behavior and growth as a young man."

Now the rest of the nation knows about Pierce.

He has rushed for at least 178 yards in each of his past three games and has gained at least 116 yards in six of his past seven contests, with the only exception coming when an injury knocked him out of a 27-13 victory over Army in the second quarter.

"We believed he'd be this type of player, and he's come to Temple at the right time," Golden said. "If he came to Temple two years ago with a much weaker offensive line and a much more inexperienced offensive line, he wouldn't be having this type of success. There would be a lot more guys hitting him in the backfield."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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