INDIANAPOLIS — Pierre Desir long ago became resigned to the likelihood that his lifelong NFL dream might not come true.
The 6-foot-1, 198-pound cornerback had greater responsibilities than impressing a bunch of football scouts. He worked his way through a growing Division II college in St. Charles, Mo. With no athletic scholarship, he supported a wife and two children by devoting more than 20 hours a day to his job, schoolwork, practice and family.
So when he starts working out Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium with the other defensive backs at the NFL’s scouting combine, it’s no wonder Desir will seemingly hear the roar coming from the living room back home.
“It’s a combine party,” he said, explaining how his family and parents planned to watch the workouts on television. “I can almost see my 7-year-old daughter, yelling ‘Go Daddy’ and not knowing which one I am out there.”
For years, it seemed nobody knew about Desir or whether he would ever make it big.
Low scores on college entrance tests sabotaged his chance to play at a Division I school. Two successful seasons at Washburn College in Kansas, his first Division II school, raised Desir’s football profile. It dropped again when he moved back near St. Louis, where both sets of parents could help out. When he tried to resurrect his football career at Lindenwood University, officials at Washburn, a conference rival, refused to grant his release, preventing Desir from getting a scholarship.
But Desir didn’t fret. He went to work.
“What happened is that I would wake up at about 5 in the morning, get my older daughter ready for school, go to the temporary service and they’d pick out a few guys to go to different work stations,” he said. “You might work on the sewers or in the sewers. I’d go to class, say 11 to 2 or something and then after school, I’d go pick up my daughter. Last year, I had to do the same thing, but I worked at Charter Communications. So I’d go to school from 10 to 2 and work from 4:30 to 2:30 and then get back up at 5.”
Sprinkle in a little football practice and film work to the daily routine and Desir didn’t have much time for anything else.
While this 23-year-old draft hopeful might seem to have the unlikeliest story of the players at this weekend’s combine, the hallways at Lucas Oil Stadium are littered with similar stories of trials, tribulations, underdogs and small-school long shots.
Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin made his first combine appearance Sunday, one month after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament during a Senior Bowl practice. Colvin only got rid of his crutches last week and says doctors have told him he should be ready to practice by the start of training camp, a promising sign heading into May’s draft.
Cornerback Travis Carrie came to Indy after six seasons at Ohio University, enduring hip surgery and two torn labrums in his right shoulder after missing one year in high school so he could recover from heart surgery to repair a birth defect.
Baylor cornerback Demetri Goodson followed his heart to Gonzaga, where he played basketball for three seasons, two as the starting point guard. Then he returned to his home state, followed the lead of his NFL playing brother, Mike, and got an extra year of eligibility through an NCAA medical waiver. Last season, after two injury-plagued seasons in Waco, Goodson joined the short list of college athletes who have played in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and a bowl game. He turns 25 in June.
“I think they were kind of iffy about it at first,” Goodson said when asked about Baylor’s reception following his basketball stint. “They had to feel me out a little bit and get to know me. After about the third game of the season I think they knew I could play.”
Desir never doubted he could play, either.
After redshirting in 2008, Desir led the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association with seven interceptions for Washburn in 2009 and followed that with five more picks in 2010. When life became too difficult on the road, Desir and his family packed up and moved back home.
Desir wound up enrolling at Lindenwood, which didn’t admit men until 1969, didn’t play football until 1990 and had produced exactly two NFL alums — running back DeDe Dorsey and defensive tackle Brian Schaefering.
None of that mattered to the native of Haiti who grew up playing soccer.
“I think it speaks to what I’m willing to go through, where my mind was at, and I still wanted to pursue my football dreams,” he said.
The football scouts took notice, showing up at practices and games in a locale they had rarely visited. They pored through film and questioned coaches to dig into Desir’s background.
What they found was a big cornerback who could hold up against receivers big and small, key traits for NFL teams looking to copy the defensive blueprint of Super Bowl champion Seattle.
All Desir has to do now is take advantage of this golden ticket.
History says most combine invitees will get drafted and those who make the 53-man roster will earn a six-figure salary as a rookie — putting Desir and his family on the cusp of living in a real dream world.
“Being a father helped me become more focused,” said Desir, who would be Lindenwood’s first draft pick. “Now I just have to prove I have the skill set to go out and compete with these guys.”
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