If you asked Alec Pierce in 2016 the standard job interview question — “Where do you see yourself in five years?” — this probably wouldn’t be it.
Back in 2016, Pierce was a converted safety switching to wide receiver for Glenbard West, a big-school power that rarely threw the ball.
Now? Well, he’s the top receiver and a first-team Academic All-American for Cincinnati — the first Group of Five team to break the Power Five stranglehold on the College Football Playoff.
It’s been quite the ride for Pierce, a 6-3, 213-pounder who also overcame not one but two injuries during the 2020 COVID season.
“That was tough,” Pierce said of the knee and shoulder injuries that limited him to six games and 17 catches in his junior season.
“It’s definitely something I focused on all fall camp this year,” he added. “I told myself I wouldn’t take anything for granted. You really miss it when you’re on the sideline watching practice. It’s brutal.”
But those days are nothing but a fading memory for Pierce, who has emerged as one of the offensive stars for the No. 4 Bearcats (13-0) as they prepare to face No. 1 Alabama (12-1) in Friday’s CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.
Pierce leads Cincy in catches (50), receiving yards (867) and receiving TDs (seven).
And he was at his best in the Bearcats’ biggest game of the season, finishing with a career-high 144 yards in a 24-13 win over Notre Dame in South Bend on Oct. 2.
“I loved it,” he said. “That was the closest thing I got to a true home game.”
He has similarly warm feelings about his time at Glenbard West.
“I’m appreciative to their program,” Pierce said. “I wasn’t even really a wide receiver. I played safety growing up.
“Junior year, they had a pretty good safety. I didn’t really fit the mold for safety [so] I went and switched to play receiver. I learned on the fly.”
It helped that he was an exceptional athlete from an exceptional athletic family. Pierce also competed in basketball, volleyball and track at Glenbard West.
His parents both played at Northwestern: dad Greg in football, mom Stephanie in volleyball. Older brother Justin played basketball at William & Mary and North Carolina State, while younger brother Caden is a Princeton basketball commit and one of the leaders of the Chicago area’s current top-ranked team.
Pierce played in 11 games as a true freshman at Cincinnati as a special-teamer and even worked out briefly at linebacker. He earned a starting job at receiver as a sophomore in 2018, catching 37 passes for 652 yards and a pair of scores. He seemed to be primed for an even bigger year as a junior.
But then came COVID and the two injuries. He didn’t mope or waste his time, though, picking up extra courses instead of doing an internship.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to work with a sling for two months,” he said.
As a result, he graduated earlier this month, completing a five-year program in just three-and-a-half and earning that Academic All-American nod.
“It was definitely something that made my mom proud,” Pierce said.
It also set him up for life after football — though he’s in no hurry to think about that. He’s listed as the No. 10 wide receiver prospect in the 2022 NFL draft by Fan Nation.
“I’m going to try to keep playing football as long as I can,” he said.
As well as it’s gone so far for him, why not?