Richard Davenport covers recruiting for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He appears weekly on The Red Zone w/ JB on 92.1 FM Fayetteville, The Morning Rush w/ Tye & Tommy on 95.3 FM in Fort Smith; 96.3 FM in Hot Springs; 104.3 FM in Harrison/Mountain Home, 99.5 FM in Fayetteville and The Zone w/ Justin & Wess on 103.7 FM in Little Rock.
The Recruiting Guy:
Linebacker target uses wrestling to advantage
Arkansas linebacker and Lovejoy product Bumper Pool with linebacker target Payton Pierce as they celebrate the Razorbacks' win over Texas.
University of Arkansas sophomore linebacker target Payton Pierce won the Texas Class 5A wrestling title despite missing the two previous seasons and missing about half of this season due to football and an injury.
“I wrestle nearly my whole life until last year when I had shoulder surgery,” Pierce said. “The last two years I haven’t had a chance to wrestle because of back-to-back shoulder surgeries, so I’ve taken two years off to come back wrestling, but I hurt my ankle in the last game of football season. So I only got to wrestle the last three weeks of the season. It was really hard trying to get back into shape Basically learn how to wrestle a gain.”
Pierce, 6-2, 225 pounds, attended nearby Allen High School as a freshman before transferring to Lovejoy. He helped Lovejoy to it’s first ever wrestling team title while finishing his season at 14-0.
Wrestling starts in November in Texas which puts football players at a big disadvantage.
“When they join wrestling, they’ve missed half the season,” Pierce said. “It’s like joining football in the middle of the season. You have to learn everything again and get back into shape.”
Wrestling is often praised by college and professional coaches saying the sport helps their players on the field. Hudl reports nearly 6% of NFL Hall of Fame inductees were wrestlers in high school or college.
“Wrestling is such difficult sport It’s so physically hard and mentally tough,” Pierce said. “It’s so much harder than anything I’ve ever done.”
Pierce recorded 131 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 10 pass breakups as a sophomore. He also had 10 rushing touchdowns and 2 passing touchdowns while playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
He believes wrestling helps him in tackling and his mental approach to football.
“Wrestling is so mental,” he said. “You get into a lot of adverse situations and it’s all a mindset learning how to get through that. It’s super physically and mentally exhausting It’s such a hard sport I think football coaches have respect for wrestlers because they’re super tough.”
Pierce credits his coaches and brother who wrestled at Arizona State and Oklahoma for helping him to the state title.
“I got training from him every single day,” Pierce said of his brother. “It turned out pretty well.”
His recruitment will intensify in March when he and other prospects are able to start visiting schools again after the month long dead period in February. He plans to make it to Fayetteville for an Arkansas spring practice.
Pierce previously visited the Hogs last summer in June and for the Texas game in September. He also plans to visit Baylor and Texas with SMU, North Texas and Texas Tech being other possibilities.
He’s developed a good bond with Arkansas linebackers coach Micheal Scherer, who has a wrestling background. Scherer wrestled in high school while his brother Daniel wrestled at Stanford.
“I love talking to Coach Scherer,” Pierce said. “We communicate a lot within the rules. I talk to him a lot about wrestling. He’s a big fan of wrestling so that’s kind of cool. It’s pretty cool talking to him about wrestling, especially since he knows a lot about it.”
Lovejoy Coach Chris Ross, who has more than 20 years of Texas high school coaching experience, was the director of football program development at Boise State from 2016-17.
“Payton will play in the NFL,” said Ross in an earlier interview. “He is an elite player athletically and mentally. He has a unique skillset and mindset.”
Seeing linebacker Bumper Pool having 125 tackles, and Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry with 101 tackles each this past season have Pierce’s attention.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” Pierce said. “Especially I think [Hayden] Henry is who stepped up this year. I know there was Bumper and Grant Morgan. It was really cool seeing them all take over the defense this year.”
Pool and his sister Maddie Pool, a Razorback associate director of on-campus recruiting, attended Lovejoy. Pierce said Arkansas is very popular at his current school and former school.
“Arkansas is real strong in Lovejoy right now,” Pierce said. “It’s a popular place over here. Nearly our whole high school and the old high school I went to almost all of my friends are up there attending Arkansas I know so many people up there it’s unbelievable They all love it.
“They think it’s awesome I believe they get in-state tuition even though it’s in Arkansas. Texas people can get it. A lot of people are going up there. They say it’s so beautiful and just such a great place.”
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