WINNIPEG — Buck Pierce was about nine years old when he suffered his first football injury.
During his second year playing in Crescent City, Calif., the future Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback broke his foot.
“They put me in a cast and they told me I couldn’t run on my cast or anything,” Pierce recalled this week. “So what did I do? I ended up going and playing and running and wrecking the cast. I think I went through like three or four casts.”
Why didn’t his coach sit him down?
“I was his football coach at the time,” Pierce’s father, Tim, said in a phone interview from California. “I couldn’t stop him. He felt that the team needed him and he felt that he would be OK. I did, too. All you have to do is look in his eyes and there’s no doubting the desire and his heart.”
Tim Pierce and wife Connie said their middle child was never a daredevil or accident-prone. He and his two brothers were just passionate about sports.
Football eventually became the sport the 29-year-old would key on but it’s also the one that’s left him with injuries to his head right on down to his ankles, both of which have plates in them.
Pierce went through his high school sports career unscathed, excelling in football, basketball and track. He once recorded a long jump of 6.71 metres and still holds the Del Notre High School single-season and career records for passing yards and touchdowns.
It was while at New Mexico State University on a football scholarship that Pierce’s injuries began to mount.
He redshirted his first year and was also a shooting guard on the school’s basketball team. When the two quarterbacks ahead of him transferred, Pierce had to choose which sport to pursue.
“I had a chance to be a starting quarterback,” Pierce said. “I think I chose the right path.
“Basketball was my first love but I think once I focused on one thing and focused all my energy towards that, things worked out for the best.”
Well, except for his sophomore and junior seasons. The Aggies ran the option and Pierce was carrying the ball about 15 to 20 times per game, he said.
With about nine games left in his sophomore campaign, Pierce was running with the ball when he “tore everything” in his left ankle. He underwent major surgery to insert a plate.
It was deja vu in his junior year when the same thing happened to his right ankle in the last game of the season.
While Pierce was healthy for his senior year, the effects of the previous injuries left an imprint.
“I’ve always known that this can be taken away from me at any time,” he said. “I’ve had numerous times where I’ve had a chance to say, ’You know, this is enough, I need to do something else.’ But I know that there’s still a lot of mental fight left in me and I know if I bounce back from these things and come back, I have faith in my ability that I’ll be a good player and I can continue to play.”
Pierce’s durability has been in doubt ever since he signed with the B.C. Lions in 2005. He has been sidelined by concussions and injuries to his shoulder, ribs, hand and ankle.
Even after Pierce was released by B.C. and signed by Winnipeg before last season, the injuries continued. The first was to his knee before Pierce dislocated the elbow of his throwing arm in September to end his season.
That didn’t deter the Bombers, who dealt veteran Steven Jyles to the Toronto Argonauts in the off-season to essentially hand Pierce the starting job. He rewarded that faith by successfully returning under centre and remaining there this season despite injuries to his thigh, calf and ribs.
Prior to last week’s road game in Montreal, Pierce’s critics suggested he shouldn’t play because of bruised ribs and that his ego was driving him to do so. Pierced guided Winnipeg to a 25-23 victory, competing 20 of 29 passes for 312 yards and two TDs and rushing three times for 24 yards to be named the CFL’s offensive player of the week.
It was the second such honour this season for Pierce, but more importantly the game was a career-high 11th straight start and earned the Bombers a league-best 8-3 record.
“I think people don’t know me as a person,” he said. “I’m not an egotistical person. “I want to play every chance I can. If I can go out there and do my job and do it to the full effect, then I’m going to do it. It’s tough because you’re in a position, too, where a lot of people think that I can’t make it through a season, and so you have that weighing on you as well. The pressure to play is high, but also I’m smart about it, too. I know that I can’t do my job if physically I know that I can’t do it.”
That intuition was tapped in early August when the Bombers travelled to face the B.C. Lions. Pierce wasn’t feeling well leading up to the game and was dehydrated.
He ended up receiving an IV for about an hour and a half before the game, which his parents had driven 12 hours to watch.
“I did what I had to do to get out there,” he said of the game Winnipeg won 30-17.
His parents have busy schedules but they watch Bombers games via computer.
Pierce’s father is a project manager overseeing construction after a tsunami hit the coast at Crescent City last March, and his mother works for an after-school program.
“Of course it makes me concerned,” Connie Pierce said of watching her son take big hits with the Bombers. “I only wish the best for him.”
Yet she and her husband don’t worry about him anymore because they know how determined he is and how much he loves playing.
“I just realize (hard hits) are part of the game,” said Tim Pierce, himself a former high school quarterback. “I know that no matter what happens, he’s going to be OK.
“I don’t mean to sound indifferent, I’m not. I think that Buck has trained me to be that way.”