Tackling guys who might weigh 75 pounds more than him is not scary for DeAndre Pierce.
Neither is challenging a potential first-round NFL quarterback.
But animated zombies? Well, that scared him right into finding his major at Boise State.
“Last year, I was playing Resident Evil 7, and I didn’t think something like a video game could make me so scared, but it looked so real,” Pierce said.
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Pierce was only a casual gamer growing up, playing mainly — surprise — football games. After he conquered the survival horror game, he was captivated by the action-adventure title Uncharted 4. Then, he was hooked.
This summer, Pierce asked one of the football team’s academic advisers if there was some sort of major that would help him get into video game development. Sure enough, Boise State had launched its Gaming, Interactive Media & Mobile Technology program in 2015 through the College of Innovation and Design.
“I wanted to know how they made stuff like that, and it’s a growing business,” Pierce said. “My dad always said if you make money but you don’t like what you’re doing, you should find something else. Shoot, having a job designing games can’t be that bad.”
In his first semester in the program, he’s learning basics in computer graphical design, with some of the more artistic portions coming down the road.
“Some pretty simple apps have made people millionaires, so that’s maybe something I’d want to do, maybe have my own studio or work for EA Sports, kind of use my background there,” Pierce said.
Before Pierce invents the next Flappy Bird or Fruit Ninja, or creates something like the next Metal Gear series, football is the dream. And the 5-foot-11, 174-pound sophomore safety is achieving plenty.
He is tied for third on the team with 39 tackles (tied for fifth with 3.5 for loss) and had his first career interception last Saturday off Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.
“The kid’s fun to be around,” junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “He might not be the biggest kid, but he’s absolutely fearless. People have got to notice that. ... You can always depend on him to be in the right place at the right time. I love that kid to death.”
Many paying attention to Boise State certainly have noticed. Pierce quickly has become a fan favorite, and even a favorite of the greats before him. Jeron Johnson, the former Broncos safety who has played in six NFL seasons, tweeted “Really like this kid!” after Pierce’s interception.
“DeAndre, there’s not enough good things you can say,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “His effort’s always on point. He’s a great leader. ... When adversity hits, he’s always a guy that steps up. Things don’t really faze him.”
Pierce was a safety in high school at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High but didn’t play cornerback until he came to Boise State. He also saw time last season at nickel, with some safety. That’s a tall task for a true freshman, but one that speaks to Pierce’s football IQ. He moved to safety full time this season.
Another piece of advice from his father, Antonio, who played nine NFL seasons with the Giants and Redskins, was “make yourself irreplaceable.” Antonio went undrafted in 2001 but carved out a long career despite being seen as undersized himself. DeAndre joked that “to me, he’s a big man.”
Like his father, DeAndre has an affinity for physicality. But on that interception, he did not have tunnel vision. Saying he was “going for the kill shot” on tight end Austin Fort’s seam route, Pierce pulled up at the last second and turned into a receiver. He caught the ball and had a 46-yard return.
Maybe it was those new-found video game reflexes.
Avalos joked, “You could see his body, like, he was a little shocked.”
“I was surprised when I caught it,” Pierce said. “... I thought I was going to score, running down the sideline. It was fun getting that first one.”
Five questions with DeAndre Pierce
Who were some of your dad’s former teammates you enjoyed being around?
“R.W. McQuarters. My brother and I went to Giants practice around Christmas and, during practice, he had all this candy in his hand warmer, so every time he’d run by us, he’d throw like 20 pieces at us and we’d go try to get it all. I have a scar in the middle of my forehead, and Amani Toomer once said, ‘I think your third eye blinked at me.’ That was funny.”
What’s it like to have three little brothers?
“They’re 8, 6 and one turns 4 next month. Those boys are crazy. They want to fight, play ping pong or play me in chess. My 6-year-old brother taught me how to play chess. He beats my dad. When I visit, they’re running into my room, waking me up at 7 a.m., every day.”
Your dad wanted you to go to Long Beach Poly, which wasn’t close to home, right?
“I had to be at school by 8. I had to get up at 5:30, catch the bus at 6:15. I’d sometimes sleep on the bus, sometimes I’d miss my stop. It ended up being a great experience, obviously.”
A lot of famous people went there. How many can you think of?
“Snoop Dogg, Cameron Diaz, DeSean Jackson, Willie McGinest, Marcedes Lewis ... and Billie Jean King.”
What do you like about No. 4?
“That was Devin Hester’s number when he was in college at Miami. He was my favorite player. I was a huge Miami fan. I love Sean Taylor and Ed Reed, too. I got to meet Sean Taylor once, which was pretty cool.”
Boise State at Utah State
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Maverik Stadium (25,100; AstroTurf synthetic grass)
TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 5-2, 3-0 (beat Wyoming 24-14 last week); Utah State 4-4, 2-2 (beat UNLV 52-28)
Series: Boise State leads 16-5 (Boise State won 21-10 on Oct. 1, 2016, in last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 8 1/2
Kickoff weather: Low 50s, clear