Bronco Beat

A 174-pound safety for Boise State? Yep. ‘The guy that’s getting hit is gonna feel it’

For those who were still watching the final quarter of Boise State’s 52-16 thrashing of Hawaii last November, one play provided a bit of a preview of what is to come in 2017.

Among the youngsters seeing extended playing time was true freshman cornerback DeAndre Pierce, all 168 pounds of him — showing just why coaches trusted him to not just play right away, but to see time at multiple positions.

Pierce introduced himself to Hawaii wide receiver John Ursua in a most abrupt way — crushing him as soon as he caught a pass on a 5-yard out.

This fall, despite being atypically sized for the position, the 5-foot-11 Pierce is No. 1 on the Broncos’ depth chart at field safety.

“He’s a tough guy, he’s going to hit you, he’s not afraid of that,” safeties coach Gabe Franklin said. “Size-wise? Maybe not. Mentality-wise? It’s all there. ... That’s what he’s going to bring. You might think he’s small, but the guy that’s getting hit is gonna feel it.”

It was evident from the start that Pierce was going to be able to handle playing immediately for Boise State. Coaches praised his football intelligence, no doubt partially a product of playing for his father, Antonio, a nine-year NFL veteran linebacker who won a Super Bowl and played in the 2007 Pro Bowl.

DeAndre Pierce played cornerback, nickel and safety last season, making 19 tackles in 12 games.

“When I came here, I just dug deep into that playbook, tried to work and be like a utility man,” Pierce said.

Cornerback involved a lot of communication with the safeties, Pierce said. At nickel, he learned what the linebackers were doing. And at safety, he must see the whole field.

“It let me know everybody in the playbook, not just my side or my position,” he said.

Now listed at 174 pounds — only four Broncos are lighter — Pierce hopes to get a little bigger by the time the season begins. Franklin wanted him to eat a loaf of bread a week in the spring, but that only went so far. Pierce said the key for him is continuing to improve his strength.

“That’s what translates onto the field. Somebody can be 200, but if they don’t want to hit or know how to hit ... it allows me to use all of those 175,” Pierce said.

Boise State coaches say Pierce’s intelligence allows him to read offenses and take the right angle, which makes up for any lack of ideal height or weight. His willingness to be physical is a bonus.

“He has that knack. It’s just something about him that puts him there,” junior cornerback Tyler Horton said. “Size doesn’t really matter to him.”

Then it’s quite fitting that Pierce said the player he looks up to is Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. The 2015 Pro Bowler is listed at 5-foot-9, 186 pounds. He’s nicknamed “The Honey Badger” after the feisty carnivore known to fight cobras and jackals.

“Honey Badger does what the Honey Badger does,” Pierce said. “That’s the person I try to model myself after. Just be relentless. ... Wherever the ball is, run to it, find it, and when I get there, it’s up to me to make my play.”

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn