Pierce prepares for first academy rivalry game
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Pierce prepares for first academy rivalry game

Air Force senior inside linebacker Jordan Pierce is making his seventh career start since breaking into the lineup for the final three games in 2013, but this week is different from any other.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior inside linebacker is scheduled to start against Navy. It marks his first career start against Army or Navy in the competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

“It’s real exciting,” said Pierce, who is leading the Falcons in tackles. “This one of the games you’re looking forward to playing all year. They’re a good team, but we’re going to play physical. I’m hoping we can win and get back that Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.”

Navy (2-3) travels to Air Force (3-1) to meet at 3:30 pm ET at Falcon Stadium. The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing yardage with 358.4 per game despite their losing record – the losses were to Ohio State and Rutgers -- so Pierce and the defense will be tested.

But the Falcons passed a big test last week with a 28-14 upset of Boise State. Air Force not only snapped a three-game Broncos winning streak, Boise had entered the game having scored 30-plus points in all three victories.

“Anytime you can beat a team that has been one of the better teams in the nation, that’s always good for your confidence,” Pierce said. “And it’s a good confidence thing coming into this week’s game against Navy.”

Sophomore defensive back Weston Steelhammer contributed the biggest plays to pick up various player-of-the-week awards. He tied a school record with three interceptions and added two tackles for a loss, including a quarterback sack.

But Pierce’s day wasn’t shabby. He led the team with a his second 10-tackle performance of the season, he intercepted a pass, he blocked a field goal and had a tackle for a loss.

Air Force needed such a victory after a 2-12 record in 2013 when the only wins were over Football Championship Subdivision member Colgate and a struggling Army squad that finished 3-9. The 2-1 start was nice, but the wins were over Nicholls State, another FCS school, and Wyoming. The Falcons needed to show they could again compete with the elite teams in the conference.

“It was like a dream,” Pierce said. “We prepared well and thought we could win, but we didn’t expect to win like that. It was a great celebration in the locker room.”

For the year, Pierce leads team in tackles with 30, ranks second in the Mountain West with 1.5 per game and has two interceptions. In six career starts -- three last year and the past three this season after not starting the season opener against Nicholls State – he’s averaging 11.5 tackles. He also had three tackles for a loss against Wyoming.

His blocked field goal in the third quarter prevented Boise State from trimming Air Force’s lead to 17-3 with plenty of time to play. On the Boise State interception, he said: “I was able to make a good play on the ball. I broke on the ball I was able to take it as far as I did.”

His return was to the 9-yard line, but Air Force was forced to settle for a Will Conant field goal from 21 yards for a 20-0 lead.

His blocked field goal in the third quarter prevented Boise State from trimming Air Force’s lead to 17-3 with plenty of time to play.

“That was an effort thing,” Pierce said. “On field goals, it’s just one guy lining up against another. I just tried to bust through my gap and get my hand on the ball.”

Except any coach or a lineman will say the play is not as routine as Pierce attempted to make it sound.

So how did a lightly recruited kid out of Athens (Ga.) Clarke Central who was limited to the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore start putting up such big numbers? Part of the reason is he’s healthy after suffering a torn ACL his freshman year that required reconstructive surgery.

“Hard work,” Pierce said before adding a typical answer for a Cadet. “Everyone has to play their part, and I’m just doing my part to help the team. It’s also a confidence thing. I wasn’t recruited heavily, but all you need is one Division I offer to prove you can play against D-1 schools. That’s why I came here.”

And now that he’s at the Air Force Academy, he’s here to play Navy.

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

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