Facebook Twitter Google+ As he was about to receive the first punt of his college career, De’Mornay Pierson-El told himself, “Just catch the ball, please just don’t drop your first return.”The ball sailed right into his arms as a pack of defenders flew into him, and the play resulted in a 1-yard loss.For Pierson-El, a freshman punt returner for Nebraska, it was uncharacteristic for him to start his collegiate football career with a mistake. From his first organized football team at 6 years old through his high school years, his versatility has allowed him to step forward and beyond what was expected from him.After spending his entire career meaning everything to his teams as a quarterback, punt returner and receiver, he’s now just one integral piece to a massive operation with the Cornhuskers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten), who are currently in first place in the conference’s West division.And in his one main job, he’s the best punt return man in the country. Pierson-El’s got a Division I-best 396 punt return yards and a 104-yard buffer on second place.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s fearless,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. “I think he understands that he’s only scratched the surface of what he’s going to be.”He’s been returning punts as long as he can remember playing, but his speed and power off the line of scrimmage also made him a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in high school.He rushed for 20 touchdowns and 1,007 yards in his senior season at West Potomac (Virginia) High School in 2013.“Everybody was ‘that’ guy in high school,” Pierson-El said, “but it’s just about getting here and adjusting to the game.“I wasn’t intimidated, I was looking forward to the challenge. I like challenges.”Speed was never a problem for Pierson-El. He was always faster than his teammates growing up and mindlessly weaved in and out of defenses for years.His speed was also essential to his success as a punt returner, as was knowing where his blockers were going to be and when.Executing a punt return was no longer a one-man show, rather an orchestrated symphony — every part needs to be played at the right time — with Pierson-El as the conductor.“At this level of the game it’s about playing with your eyes, playing with your mind,” Pierson-El said. “Knowing how to run your route, knowing how to set up a defender and see a block.“Mentally the game has changed a lot for me.”Pierson-El’s first collegiate touchdown was actually an 8-yard pass against Florida Atlantic in the Cornhuskers’ season opener. His 86-yard punt return for a score was his second.His versatility has led him to one more touchdown in the return game and another through the air, as his first eight collegiate games are just as indicative of his work ethic as they are of what could come of it.“I’m not going to say I imagined I’d be the best at (returning) as quickly as things have happened,” Pierson-El said, “But I came in working my butt off and knew I was prepared to step into whatever role they need me in.” Comments Published on October 31, 2014 at 12:54 am Contact Connor: [email protected] | @connorgrossman
Photo: © UEFA.com The Champions League continues tonight with Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City all kicking off their group stage campaigns.Philippe Countinho is expected to make his Reds return in the Group E opener against Sevilla at Anfield.The Brazilian has yet to play for the Merseysiders this season, having handed in a transfer request and picking up a back injury. Seville came from behind to beat Liverpool in the Europa League final in Switzerland 16 months ago.Jurgen Klopp says they are a team that deserves respect.