"It made me feel real comfortable and it just basically put the stamp on that academically they offer a lot – I like what they offer academically. And if I wanted to go there, I would have an opportunity to play, as long as I take care of the stuff in the classroom. They give you freedom, but they expect a lot out of their players."
Boston College is the only other current FBS school to offer Pierson-El, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound running back from Alexandria (Va.) West Potomac. Old Dominion, which is moving up to the FBS ranks in 2015, has also offered.
Besides UNC, Pierson-El has visited Maryland and Virginia. Given the lack of visits, he is reluctant to name favorite schools.
Pierson-El traveled to UNC in the middle of West Potomac's spring break. He arrived a few hours before UNC's seventh practice of the spring, which allowed him to check out the gear the Tar Heels get, visit the weight room, locker room, and cafeteria, and sit down with assistant coaches Walt Bell and Randy Jordan.
During his conversations with Bell and Jordan, Pierson-El got a better idea of how he'd fit into UNC's roster.
"In their offense, they have two running backs – an A-back and a B-back," Pierson-El explained. "An A-back is a running back/receiver and at my high school that's what I play. So they said I fit perfectly into their system.
"But they also said they like me on the defensive side, too. So they are weighing that out. But they offered me as a running back."
This fall, Pierson-El will be a three-year starter for West Potomac, playing both running back and defensive back. As a junior, he rushed for 1,658 yards and 26 touchdowns on 181 carries on offense, and tallied 67 tackles (56 solo) and four interceptions on defense.
Pierson-El also received a quick campus tour.
"The academic center and how much help that they have and the focus on how that part comes first – that really stood out," Pierson-El said.
"They told me the next time I come, I can go inside the dorms and I can meet a teacher and the head of what I want to major in, which is physical therapy."
Though he definitely plans to return to UNC, Pierson-El isn't exactly sure when such a visit would take place. It could be for the spring game, during the summer, or for a football game this fall.
Pierson-El is also in the process of setting up visits to both Boston College and Old Dominion.
Before heading out to UNC's practice field, Pierson-El met with Larry Fedora.
"He actually asked me if I have any questions, which was different than most coaches," Pierson-El said. "And then he just talked about some of the other things that the other coaches talked about, like how would I fit in their system, what position, some academic stuff, coming back down, and then uniforms."
Pierson-El concluded his stay by attending practice, which was scaled back in anticipation of UNC's first scrimmage of the spring.
"[Fedora] said that the practice wasn't going to be as intense, because they had a scrimmage the next day so they cut back a little bit, but it's very fast, up-tempo," Pierson-El said. "It's faster than high school. You have to be on top of your game [and] you have to pay attention, so that you don't mess up. If you mess up, the coaches, they'll get on you. And you have to go 100-percent each play."