AMES, IOWA — Dale Pierson stood in the hallway at the Bergstrom Football Complex as the clock ticked past 11 p.m. when a smile appeared across his face followed by a laugh that gave the sense of disbelief.
The senior defensive end was not thinking about the game of his life that had just unfolded in the preceding three and a half hours. He would undoubtedly think about that particular game for quite some time, but for a brief few seconds his mind wandered off. He was thinking about a moment 372 days earlier.
“I remember that more than any other game I’ve played,” Pierson said. “I know I don’t ever want to go back to that.”
Pierson was referring to his Iowa State debut on Aug. 30, 2014.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder committed to Iowa State in December 2013 out of Pasadena C.C., but ultimately didn’t arrive until August, right in time for fall camp. When the season-opener rolled around, he was behind. Then he hardly played.
As the clock moved toward zeros in a 34-14 loss to North Dakota State on that afternoon, it wasn’t until the final three plays that Pierson finally touched the field. His last play was a quarterback kneel.
“I was coming in thinking that I was going to play and getting those three snaps — really two snaps — it was just horrible. I hated it,” Pierson said of his debut. “The only thing I could really do was work harder and not try to impress the coaches, but just try to make myself a better player.”
What a difference one year makes.
Pierson started in Iowa State’s 31-7 season-opening win against Northern Iowa on Saturday. He was the catalyst to a momentum-shift when he intercepted a screen pass that set up Iowa State’s game-tying touchdown and 31 unanswered points. He recorded three sacks after tallying two all of last season.
Much of Pierson’s motivation stems from that vivid memory of disappointment one year ago. He knows he doesn’t want to return.
Some of his motivation comes from other parts of his life.
As Pierson stood in the hallway, the clock slowly inching toward midnight, he tried to best explain how, in one year, he’s come so far.
“I remember Cory…” Pierson said with pause, referring to defensive end Cory Morrissey from 2014. “Cory always used to run everywhere and go 100 miles per hour everywhere. I was behind Cory, so once I didn’t get what I wanted to get, I used to try to outwork Cory.”
Then came talk of perhaps the biggest change.
“It was even easier bringing my daughter out here and having that motivation,” Pierson said. “Just constant motivation everyday.”
As Pierson begins the 2015 season, his 1-year-old daughter Jazlynn now lives in Ames with him. If any extra motivation was ever needed, he now has it.
“I don’t know if there’s a player that practices harder than he does,” coach Paul Rhoads said Saturday night. “When you practice that hard, good things come, and when they come, they come in a big way.”
That was abundantly clear Saturday night.
As Pierson’s laugh cleared the air he appeared to be in disbelief. He would soon disappear down the hallway and return home to Jazlynn, much happier than he was one year ago. First, he would attempt to explain how unbelievable the was.
“I know I talk about God a lot," Pierson said, "but I honestly believe that’s how I get through things and that’s how I’ve become the player I’ve become."