Late in the 2014 season, Little Rock McClellan coach Maurice Moody found himself in a precarious spot.
Playing against J.A. Fair, the Lions were low on running backs. With seemingly no options, he turned to his offensive coordinator, who suggested putting a sophomore slot receiver - Pierre Strong - in the backfield.
“He said, ‘Coach, Pierre can do it,’” Moody recalled. “Pierre goes in there the first play and he busts it open for 60 yards and a touchdown. The rest is history.”
Strong remained at running back the rest of his sophomore campaign and finished with 45 carries for 385 yards and six touchdowns.
He nearly eclipsed those numbers in one game in 2015.
In a 37-14 Week 1 win over Sheridan, Strong rushed for 320 yards and four touchdowns on only 16 carries. Two of his touchdowns came on runs of 91 and 97 yards.
That performance set the stage for a breakout season in which Strong rushed for 2,248 yards and 30 touchdowns on 188 carries. He averaged 12 yards per carry.
“It was great, but I couldn’t do it without God and without my offensive line,” Strong said. “My offensive line was making holes for me to go through and I went through them. It was an exciting season.
“I’m going to miss my offensive linemen that were seniors and are graduating.”
Strong led McClellan to a 10-3 season that ended with a runner-up finish in the Class 5A playoffs. It was the Lions’ first appearance in a state championship game since 1994.
Despite the 50-30 loss to Pulaski Academy in the title game, Strong said he is still proud of what he and his team accomplished last season and he’ll never forget what it was like playing at War Memorial Stadium in December.
“I’ve never seen that many people come out for one of our games,” Strong said. “Usually at our home games, we’ll have 200 people. There were thousands of people out there to see our team play.
“Even though we didn’t win, we still achieved something.”
His play also drew the attention of college coaches. While none have offered, Strong has received interest from Arkansas, LSU, Memphis and several FCS and Division II schools.
Moody said that based on his conversations with Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., he thinks the Razorbacks could take the next step in the recruiting process.
“I think Arkansas is really close to offering Pierre,” Moody said. “We’ve had some contact with Coach Lunney about him. They came to some football games and watched him play.”
If that happens, it would be a dream come true for Strong, who has grown up in Arkansas as a fan of the Razorbacks.
Strong is doing everything he can to get better this offseason to ensure he has an opportunity to fulfill his dream of playing for the Razorbacks.
That includes not playing basketball this season so he can go through his team’s offseason weight program.
“I’m skinny, but I play running back, so I just want to get in the weight room and get bigger because I’m trying to play Division I football and not Division I basketball,” Strong said. “I don’t even really like basketball. I was just playing it to stay in shape.”
His goal is to put 10 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame before the season starts, while still maintaining his 4.52 40-yard dash speed.
“I’m trying to get my strength up, trying to get to at least 205 (pounds) with my same speed,” Strong said. “Instead of running around and juking people, I want to run them over.”
Strong said he also hopes to attend Arkansas’ junior day this offseason. He attended the Razorbacks’ advanced camp last June and took an unofficial visit to their game against Toledo at War Memorial Stadium during the season.
While he plays running back at McClellan, Strong said he could and is willing to play anywhere on the field, including slot receiver and defensive back.
Regardless of where he ends up, Moody said he believes a college will be getting a player that will contribute in 2017.
“He’s one of those guys that wherever he goes, he’s going to make an instant impact,” Moody said. “I think he’s going to play as a freshman.”