Razorback Q&A: Mark Pierce
Mark Pierce wants the ball. He can't help it. He'll take it from a handoff or as a receiver, but get him the ball. The true sophomore from Weatherford, Texas was used to having the ball in his hands after accumulating 1,910 yards in his senior season in high school. It's a good thing he likes to hit people too.
After an off-season of heavy lifting and eating, Pierce has now swollen to 240 pounds of lean, mean fullback. He'll spend the majority of his time butting heads with linebackers and leading the way for Arkansas arsenal of dangerous tailbacks.
Pierce is a very physical blocker and a hard-nosed runner, but his 4.5 speed makes him even more of a threat. Pierce has also established himself as a reliable receiver out of the backfield, scoring Arkansas' first offensive touchdown of the season on a 14 yard toss from Matt Jones.
Mark will get a good chunk of his carries as the fullback on Arkansas midline option. If you look closely you may even notice him trying to take the ball away from Jones when he's trying to fake it. I took a few minutes to let Pierce convince me why they should give him the…dang ball.
Nathan Striegler: Tell me about catching the first touchdown pass of the season.
Mark Pierce: It felt good. I worked hard all summer and all spring. Everybody did. We really worked together as a team. It's nice to feel like it paid off. Just winning the game and scoring the first touchdown on offense was great.
NS: It seems like you excel as a receiver out of the backfield. Is that something you take a lot of pride in?
MP: Yeah. I was a tailback coming in here and I made the transition to fullback but I really haven't lost my hands. I've always loved to catch the ball. I've been working hard, staying after practice catching balls with D. Nutt. That's something I take a lot of pride in.
NS: How tough has it been for you to come to terms with not having the ball in your hands 20 times a game?
MP: It was pretty difficult, but after I saw how much the fullback does and how much he contributes to the running backs it was easier. I just have such a great relationship with my tailbacks. It makes everything so much better even if I'm not getting 10 or 15 carries a game. I've always been a team player. Stuff like that really never bothered me. I'm just gonna do whatever I can to help the team.
NS: Ole Miss last year was your coming out party. A lot of people didn't even know who you were and suddenly you had three touchdowns in that one game. What was that like for you?
MP: I tried to step up any way I could to help the team. On goal line they put out there. Coach Nutt told me that he has trust in me because of the way I was catching and running the ball. So he gave me the opportunity and I just tried to take advantage of it and it just worked out.
NS: How much did you have to eat to pack on this much mass?
MP: I ate a lot. I ate probably 40 or 50 dollars worth of food every day.
NS: What's your favorite place to eat?
MP: Outback Steakhouse. I get a big ol' steak.
NS: In your recruiting it was a battle between TCU and Arkansas and as I recall there was a female involved in the situation. What's the story there?
MP: That's right. She was really my high school sweetheart. She was beautiful and we had been together so long. Plus TCU was right around my hometown and I was kinda like every 18 year-old; a little scared to go away from home. I was worried about being away from my parents and friends. Now this place to me is just like home. When I go home all I do is think about the Razorbacks, and want to come back to see my friends here. This has really become my home. Last year I went home a lot but this year I haven't gone home at all. I love it here. I'll probably stay around here after I finish with school.
NS: How much of a different role is it for you now doing the grunt work of a fullback?
MP: My running backs have a lot of faith in me. Fred Tally and them call me the Brahma Bull. I've got a bull tattooed on my chest. I've accepted that role. I love it. When I see Fred Talley or Cedric Cobbs and those guys on the front page it makes me feel good because I know that I put in the work to help put them in the end zone. I know I've got to go in there and give it everything I've got, taking on a linebacker or whatever. Without the fullback, the tailbacks would probably have a little bit of trouble. So I'll take on that big block. I love to hit. That's me.
NS: I've always seen you as more of a Tasmanian devil. If you could play any other position other than fullback or tailback, what would it be?
MP: I'd play quarterback.
NS: So you've got a gun for an arm?
MP: I can probably throw the ball 55 or 60 yards, but I just know the game of football. I know what the linemen are going to do. I know what the receivers are going to do. I know the checks and audibles. I've got such a love for the game and the quarterback handles the ball every play. He's the man. I've got that mentality. I've got a lot of leadership in me. I was one of the captains on my high school football team. I hope I'm a future Razorback captain. That's one of my goals. I love to be in the leadership role. I don't like to follow.
NS: Do you have any hidden talents we should know about?
MP: You don't even want to know. I can ride bulls. In Weatherford, Texas I was pretty well known as a bull-rider. My ex-girlfriends dad was a professional bull-rider. He got me into it. A lot of my friends are into it too. We'd go out there and I'd buck bulls for her.
NS: So football is pretty tame for you.
MP: When you get on a bull you don't know if you'll come off alive. If he steps on you, you could die. I don't wear any shoulder pads or helmets when I ride. I just rip it and ride.
NS: So eating beef has a special meaning for you.
MP: I eat a lot of steak. We used to smoke the meat all day from morning to night and it was just so tender.
NS: How nice was the sound of 70,000 screaming Razorback fans Saturday night?
MP: It was sweet. There isn't a feeling in the world better than coming out there and seeing just nothing but red in that stadium. It's so loud. It just gives you such a rush. That's the closest thing to getting on a bull. You can feel the crowd in your veins. I just love our fans. They're great.
NS: How do you guys feel going into the South Florida game?
MP: We played a team like them last year in Central Florida. They're just pure athletes. They've got speed and talent and they're out to prove something. They've got a chip on their shoulder and they're gonna try to come in and set the tempo. Coming into that our mindset is that we've got to set the tempo. We want to get on the scoreboard early. The defense can get some turnovers and the offense will put them in the endzone and let's just go with it. We need to put them behind quick and try to force them to make a comeback.
NS: Do you ever step back and realize that you're only a sophomore and you've already come so far?
MP: This is a dream come true for me. Right now all I can say is every time I stop and think about it I get goosebumps and chills. Everything that I've ever wanted to do up to this point, I've done it. I'm still going strong and I'm still reaching. God doesn't put any limitations on what you can do. Only your mind puts limitations on you.
NS: I noticed a few times last year on the midline that Matt would try to fake it to you and it looked like you were trying to take it. What was going on?
MP: That was me. On the midline he can only see the front side of the field. He can't see the backside cut. If I see the backside cut…I love the ball and I love to run. It was my fault. I shouldn't have tried to take the ball from him but if I had it to do over I'd do it again. I know what I saw in there. I could have taken one of them to the zone but I slipped and fell about 12 yards out. I occasionally grab one from Matt that I'm not supposed to and I get in trouble when we go inside. We get a big kick out of that. He'll come over to me after the game and say, "Hey you ripped it right out of my hands didn't you?" We'll sit around laughing about it because he just knows I love to carry the ball. If he sticks the ball out there and puts it in my belly I wanna take it. It's a soft sweet place and I just wanna grab it and go. Sometimes I think he's teasing me.