Pierce embracing leadership role, expects all five backs to play

Zach Abolverdi
The Gainesville Sun
Dameon Pierce is one of just five returning starters for the Gators on offense.

Dameon Pierce is taking on more of a leadership role this year in Florida’s deep running back room. 

Helping out the younger players at the position and splitting more carries with them hasn’t been a challenge for him. It’s coming to grips with his seniority. 

“Finally admitting that I’m old,” Pierce quipped when asked what’s the biggest change in his role. 

Pierce is one of just five returning starters for the Gators on offense after starting 10 of their 12 games last season, leading the team in rushing with 503 yards and four touchdowns. 

UF also brings back redshirt senior Malik Davis (310 yards) and redshirt sophomore Nay’Quan Wright (213 yards, two scores) from 2020. The trio of backs combined for more than 1,000 yards rushing and 752 yards in the passing game, with Davis leading the way (31 catches for 377 yards) followed by Wright (19 catches for 219 yards) and Pierce (17 catches for 156 yards, one TD). 

Florida’s backfield also features a pair of five-star transfers in redshirt junior Lorenzo Lingard Jr. and redshirt freshman Demarkcus Bowman, who enrolled in January. There’s no shortage of options in the run game, but Pierce prefers it that way. 

“The more the merrier. The more people to learn from,” Pierce said. “It’s a bigger bond between everybody. With me being one of the older guys in the room, it changed my role a lot. I’m wanting to make sure those guys are prepared for everything and comfortable.”

Pierce took Wright under his wing last year and gave him guidance during his first season as a contributor. After Wright’s first career touchdown at Texas A&M, Pierce retweeted a photo of his score with the caption, “Proud of you my boy, many more to come.”

Pierce is extending that same helping hand to Bowman this spring. 

“For a guy like Bowman in his first year here, how can I help him get more comfortable? How can I help him learn the playbook? How can I get him more involved and more knowledgeable? I have to make sure that he’s OK,” Pierce said. 

“If he ain’t set, that’s a reflection on me. That means that’s poor leadership on my end. So basically everybody’s just gotta check everybody. Make sure everybody’s working in the same direction in that room.”

That being said, there’s still a competition for carries and only one football to go around. Position coach Greg Knox made the rotation work last season, and Pierce believes all five backs will be able to earn playing time this year with the Gators going to a more run-oriented offense. 

“It doesn't matter who is in, the job is going to get done at a very high level. Coach Knox stresses that,” Pierce said. “Just make sure that you're ready when your number is called because it will be called eventually.

“We are all team oriented, man. Whatever’s good for the team, we’re going to go with it. … We’re going to be happy. We’re all going to reap the same benefits. Everything’s for the win.”

What does each back bring to the table? Pierce put on his analyst hat and offered a scouting report on all five players, starting with himself. 

“Obviously I’m a power runner, I'm a north and south guy,” Pierce said. “Malik’s more pass-reliant, so we might use Malik in the pass game, get him open. Same thing with Nay’Quan. Nay’Quan kind of like a Swiss army knife. We can throw him in the run game, we can get him behind a couple of linemen, or we can throw him in the pass game, you know? 

“And Lorenzo and Bowman come kind of similar in terms of physical assets. They both have great top-end speed and great acceleration. With those guys you want to get them the ball, obviously, going north and south.”