Eastern Washington running back Tamarick Pierce’s variety-bag ability is similar to his disposition.
He often defers to a quiet, workman’s approach and, since registering carries as a true freshman in 2016, his avoidance of the media has made him somewhat of a mysterious figure.
If Pierce is in a comfortable setting, though, his personality shifts quicker than his feet. He gives long, thoughtful opinions and responses and is perky around friends, teammates and coaches.
In his more than four seasons at EWU, the co-captain’s running style is also varying.
Pierce, who has totaled 1,014 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in an injury-hampered career, is more of a downhill runner, but he also exhibits the ability of a sprinter looks to bounce outside the hashes.
Sometimes there’s brute force. Sometime’s there’s gale force with an occasional catch out of the backfield.
“His burst is as good as you’re going to see,” EWU offensive coordinator Ian Shoemaker said. “He is a thicker, stronger back, and we’re not going to change the running calls (to inside or outside) if he’s in the game like we would other running backs.”
Typically used with a group of rotating running backs, Pierce makes the most out of his carries, averaging 6.3 yards a rush in college, the fourth-best mark in program history.
He was even more menacing in high school as the featured back Saint Mary’s near Oakland, California, totaling 3,342 career yards (8.8 yards per carry) and 35 rushing touchdowns.
“But my name could be unknown and that would be fine with me,” Pierce said in a rare. “Just as long as we win. It’s a team sport.”
Between his No. 24 jersey, hard-running ability, media reluctance and the Twitter handle of BabyBeastmode24, it’s clear who Pierce models his game after: Ex-Seahawks great Marshawn Lynch, who also hails from Oakland.
Pierce was in grade school when Lynch starred in college at nearby California alongside Pierce’s God brother Lorenzo Alexander, who went on to become a two-time All-Pro linebacker in the NFL.
Alexander played at Saint Mary’s alongside Pierce’s blood brother, current Eastern Illinois running backs coach and former NFL assistant Omar Young.
“I wanted No. 21 in high school, to carry my older brother (Young’s) legacy,” Pierce said. “But it was taken, so they gave me No. 24.”
“My brother says ‘You know that’s Lynch’s number, right? You run the ball like he does’”.
Pierce and Lynch have similar personality traits, too.
“(Pierce) is all business,” Shoemaker said. “He has been putting the time in, doing things right. He’s opinionated and isn’t afraid to say what he feels.”
The psychology major and three-time All-Big Sky Academic honoree has been working toward a healthy season for two years.
In the 2018 Football Championship Subdivision semifinals when the Eagles handled Maine 50-19 in Cheney, Pierce, who rushed for 550 yards and seven touchdowns that season, tore his ACL on a carry in the final minutes.
Instead of playing on the FCS level’s grandest stage – Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas to face North Dakota State for the national title – Pierce was sidelined after a surgery.
“It was supposed to be one of the happiest moments for me,” Pierce said of the FCS semifinal win. “But as players and fans charged the field, I was being carted off. It was kind of a downer.”
Rehab took over a year and, after appearing in four games in 2019 as he eased back into the game, he elected to use his medical redshirt.
And just when it appeared Pierce had made a full recovery and appeared prime for a breakout 2020 season, the coronavirus pandemic caused a major delay.
Training took a hit due to local restrictions.
“They said we could do workouts, then they said we couldn’t do workouts,” Pierce said. “So it was very confusing at first. But a lot of guys were still showing up.
Pierce and quarterback Eric Barriere were among the most diligent offseason workers following EWU’s disappointing 2019 season, when the Eagles finished 7-5 and missed the playoffs after being widely expected to make a consecutive run to the FCS title game.
“I didn’t want our 2020 season to end like our 2019 season did,” Pierce said. “I’m not doing this (extra work) to be a team captain, I am doing this so we don’t repeat ourselves. No little things can slide anymore.”
A lack of depth at running back was among the reasons EWU didn’t have the success it wanted in 2019.
Pierce ultimately redshirted after the four maximum games, experience senior speedster Dennis Merritt went down with a season-ending injury Week 2 and redshirted and reserve Isaiah Lewis left the program early in the season.
Antoine Custer, who has since graduated, was the feature back. A true freshman from little Northwest Christian, Silas Perreiah, was EWU’s No. 2 running back in 2019.
“With the tempo we want to play, we use multiple running backs,” Shoemaker said. “So it made things tougher (after the injuries) on Custer as our primary back.”
Now the Eagles’ deep running back room includes, Pierce, Merritt, Perrieah, Lewis (returned to the team), sophomore Micah Smith, sophomore and Washington transfer Jamyn Patu and talented true freshman Justice Jackson, who may also see early action
“I used 2019 as the bridge to get back. The new redshirt rule (of playing in four games) worked out perfect for me,” Pierce said. “We had a stable of different backs in 2018, and we have a good group right now.”
EWU opens its rare, delayed six-game spring season on Feb. 27 at Idaho in the Kibbie Dome.
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