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Pierce's speed gives Beavers different look

COURTESY: BETH BUGLIONE - Freshman Artavis Pierce has started to complement the power run game of Ryan Nall, giving Oregon State a 1-2 punch on the ground.CORVALLIS — Ryan Nall is a power back; Artavis Pierce qualifies as a speed merchant.

Together, they portent good things in the Oregon State backfield.

“It’s good to have thunder and lightning,” OSU running backs coach Telly Lockette says. “We want those guys to push each other.”

Nall and Pierce are expected to share the load Saturday when Oregon State (1-3 overall, 0-1 in Pac-12 play) plays host to California (3-2, 1-0) in a 6 p.m. Pac-12 matchup at Reser Stadium.

Nall, a 6-2, 235-pound sophomore, has carried 49 times for 211 yards, a 4.3-yard average. Pierce, a 5-11, 200-pound true freshman, has rushed 26 times for 144 yards, a 5.5-yard average.

Pierce is one of the gems from coach Gary Andersen’s first full recruiting class, a quicksilver from Lake Alfred, a town of 5,200 located between Tampa and Orlando in the south central regions of Florida.

During August training camp, Pierce beat out junior-college transfers Tim Cook and Kyle White to earn the backup tailback role behind Nall, the former Central Catholic High star.

“By what the kid showed in high school, I thought he could help us out,” says Lockette, who recruits Florida for the Beavers. “I was right.”

Pierce played the entire second half in Oregon State’s 47-6 loss at Colorado last Saturday, gaining 61 yards on eight rushing attempts.

“He’ll continue to get the ball in his hands,” Andersen says. “He has gotten more physical as the weeks have gone on. He has done a nice job getting yards after contact. He has become a better (pass) protector. He is ahead of where I thought he’d be at this point. We have two quality backs, and that’s a good thing.”

It’s what Pierce had in mind when he committed to OSU over scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Temple and South Alabama, turning down a late bid by Arizona to sign with the Beavers.

The Wildcats “offered me just before the signing date, but I’d already made up my mind,” Pierce says. “I liked the opportunity to play as a true freshman. Plus, when I came out for my (recruiting) visit, I liked the environment. I liked how people treated me. Everybody was welcoming, like I’d been here before.”

Says Lockette: “We got on the kid early, and he stuck with us. Arizona came in late, and so did Kentucky, but the kid stayed true to us. That showed the loyalty the kid had and the trust he had in the coaching staff.”

Pierce was a four-year starter at Auburndale High, rushing for 2,076 yards and 18 touchdowns. It wasn’t enough to draw much interest from major school recruiters.

“It happens a lot in Florida,” Lockette says. “There are so many kids who go unnoticed.”

Pierce drew Lockette’s attention while he was coaching running backs at South Florida. After Lockette made the move to OSU with Andersen last year, Pierce became a recruiting target.

“We sat at his home and told him he’d have an opportunity to show what he could do right away,” Lockette says.

Lockette began his career coaching eight years ago in Florida — spending five seasons at Miami Central High and three at South Florida. He watched a lot of outstanding prep running backs during those years.

“Artavis is right up there with any of them,” Lockette says.

Pierce’s speed — he was clocked at 4.45 in the 40 as a prep senior — is immediately noticeable. He also is shifty.

“One cut and go — I’m very explosive,” he says. “I can determine my cuts and get vertical real quick.”

After Pierce arrived in Corvallis in July for Oregon State’s “Bridge” program for incoming freshmen, Nall “took him under his wing and showed him the ropes,” Lockette says. “That was a big plus for A.P.”

“He’s my big brother,” Pierce says of Nall. “He has helped me with everything I need to know. During camp, he taught me everything in the playbook.”

Pierce says the transition from high school to FBS ball is substantial.

“The schemes are much different than in high school,” he says. “There is more you have to focus on. And I had to pick up on my blocking — that’s big in college football — so (coaches) could trust me to do more things.”

Lockette says Pierce is a student of the game.

“He is always willing to learn,” the OSU running backs coach says. “He is always asking questions. He is always engaged. And he is getting game reps now, a plus for him and a plus for us.”

Pierce’s unusual first name is an offshoot of that of his father, Arthur.

“My mom (Delores) made it up,” Artavis says. “She used the first three letters of my dad’s name and added some stuff to it.”

Pierce shares his given name with Artavis Scott, a two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference receiver from Clemson.

“He’s the only other person I’ve heard with my name,” Pierce says.

Pierce, who finished high school with a 3.2 grade-point average, has not yet declared a major at OSU but has an eye on engineering.

“My goal is to maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA through college,” he says.

As for football, Pierce isn’t worried about winning a starting job or racking up stats.

“I want to get the respect of my coaches and teammates,” he says. “I want to help our running game, which will open up the passing game. I want to help us get some wins. Those are my goals.”

That sounds fine to Lockette.

“We want him to keep pushing Ryan, to help get both of those guys to where we need them to be,” he says

Twitter: @kerryeggers

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