Football / Sports

From Haiti to janitor to 'The D-2 Richard Sherman,' Pierre Desir winds long road to the Browns

He was a foreigner from Haiti. He was a janitor, scrubbing toilets and picking up trash who, at night, moonlighted as an employee for Verizon Wireless.

He has also been called "The D-2 Richard Sherman," and he's now a Browns fourth-round draft pick.

Pierre Desir's story is not normal for an NFL rookie.

And as extravagant as it is to be called the Division II version of possibly the best cornerback in the NFL, it might fit Desir's profile as a player. It falls short, though, in explaining his full story.

Desir and his family came to the United States from Haiti when he was 4 years old. He started playing football as a freshman in high school and was receiving interest from multiple high-level programs (Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State) by his senior year but instead went to Washburn University, a small Division II school in Kansas.

There, he earned all-conference honors but wanted to be closer to his wife and two daughters, so he hoped to transfer to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.

Desir was already perhaps the best cornerback in Division II, so Washburn blocked his transfer, wouldn't release him from his scholarship and forced Desir to sit out a year in 2011.

It was keep playing football or be near his family and sit out a year, only being able to work out -- no practice, no games. Desir chose the latter, and he took on several odd jobs to make ends meet.

"He had all kinds of different jobs from cleaning up sewage to construction and manual labor," said Kent Maugeri, defensive backs coach at Lindenwood. "He also worked at Verizon Wireless. He'd go in late and answer phones. He'd get off work at two in the morning and get up at six every time he had to lift weights. I don't know how he slept, the poor kid worked so hard."

This was in between the classes he had to take to remain eligible. And in a year, Maugeri said, Desir never missed a weight-lifting session. Not one.

"He's accountable," Maugeri said. "He never missed anything."

Once he was allowed to play again, Desir picked up right where he left off, utilizing his great size for the position (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) and ball skills to become an All-American in 2012 with nine interceptions and 60 tackles. In 2013, he won the Cliff Harris Award as the top small college defensive player. In all, his 25 career interceptions rank in the top 10 in Division II history.

When asked to compare Desir to a cornerback currently playing in the NFL, Maugeri didn't hesitate when saying it was Sherman, of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, due to his propensity for taking passes the other way.

"He's the D-2 Richard Sherman," Maugeri said. "He's got ball skills like I've never seen. Because of his size, his ball skills are outstanding, he's a physical corner. When the ball's up on that side of the field there's a great chance he's going to come down with it."

Like Sherman with the Seahawks, or even Joe Haden with the Browns, Desir was often put on an island and asked to take away his side of the field.

"People wouldn't throw to his side. It was almost comical," Maugeri said. "We had all these scouts here and they wouldn't even run to his side."

Desir figures to fit in as a depth option for the Browns at cornerback after Haden, fellow draftee Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine. He also fits the mold of what the Browns and new coach Mike Pettine seem to be looking for in a cornerback, as both he and Gilbert are at least 6 feet tall and are known as being both athletic and tough at the line of scrimmage.

He does have some making up to do, though. He'll be 24 in September following his extended college career, which included a redshirt freshman season.

And although athletically gifted, he'll still be making the jump straight from Division II Lindenwood to the big, bad NFL.

"The speed of the game is going to be a little bit different for him," Maugeri said. "Just acclimating to that speed, that's going to be the biggest challenge for him."

He's overcome challenges like this before. From janitor to Verizon Wireless to family man to football player and back, Desir's road to the NFL hasn't been the usual one. But he's there now.

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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