For NFL Prospect Pierre Desir, It's Always Been Fatherhood, Then Football

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For NFL Prospect Pierre Desir, It's Always Been Fatherhood, Then Football
Don Adams Jr.

In a few moments, you may become very angry.

That's just a warning, before you dive into a story that features a confident 23-year-old man, a scared 15-year-old boy, a pregnant aspiring dancer, two adorable little girls, Haitian immigrants, NFL dreams, floating diapers, knee-high liquid feces and a Division II football coach who nearly destroyed the whole damn thing.

But first, let's start here. At the St. Louis Bread Company.

It is a somewhat nondescript chain restaurant in the somewhat nondescript chain restaurant-a-plenty town of St. Charles, Missouri—home to 65,794 people, the Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne shrine, Lou Brock, Mark Buehrle and the creator of something called the Gumballhead the Cat comic book character.

Come most afternoons, employees from the myriad nearby strip malls descend upon the eatery, where they pay inflated prices for coffee beverages and the half-soup, half-salad lunch special.

It is here, at a corner table, where one finds Pierre Desir, Lindenwood University defensive back and—depending on who you ask—the best small-school prospect in the upcoming NFL draft. Because he is unusually quiet and just a touch guarded, Desir's saga has remained, by and large, an untold one.

To most people, he is merely a cliched football narrative—the kid who went overlooked coming out of high school, then excelled enough via small-time college ball to place himself on the pro radar and score invites to the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. He's the 6'2", 206-pound defensive back in the era of big, Richard Sherman-esque specimens at the position.

Desir has no real problem with this. He longs for attention as one longs for scurvy. Though polite and courteous, with a warm smile and iced-tea-with-a-splash-of-lemon-colored eyes, there is little eagerness in speaking of himself.

"I'm not that big of a deal," Desir pleads. And, for a moment, you believe him. Quiet kid. Sleepy eyes. Small town. Obscure college. A seven-year-old daughter. Mediocre sandwiches...

A seven-year-old daughter?

And that's when it begins. Right here, at the moment you do the math, with Desir sitting before you, running his right index finger along the rim of a half-empty cup of lukewarm water. Pierre Desir is 23. His daughter Keeli is seven. Um, that means...

"I was 16 when she was born," he says, quietly. "Fifteen when I found out I was going to be a father."

It wasn't supposed to happen that way, of course. Really, is it ever? When, in 1994, Wilfrid and Marie Desir applied for a visa to leave war-torn Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and bring their six-year-old daughter, Myriam, and four-year-old son, Pierre, to the United States, it was with the idea of seeking out the gilded American dream.

At the time, their country was in the midst of a bloody government coup, with Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras leading an overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first popularly elected president in Haitian history. According to a U.S. State Department report, "more than 3,000 men, women and children were murdered by or with the complicity of Haiti's then-coup regime."

Cedras led a campaign of torture, and thousands of Haitians fled for the U.S. "Cedras and his armed thugs have conducted a reign of terror, executing children, raping women, killing priests," President Bill Clinton said in a 1994 address to the nation. "As the dictators have grown more desperate, the atrocities have grown ever more brutal."

The Desirs' visa request was approved, and when Wilfrid went to the United States Embassy to fill out the final paperwork, he was told the family would fly to Miami (great!)—and then, a mysterious land of milk and honey by the name of, eh, St. Louis.

AP Photo

"I never heard of it," says Wilfrid, a former professional soccer player who spent 10 years with Athletico Sports Club. "We knew no one there, and nothing about the area. But to come here was a blessing from God. I didn't complain."

In Port-au-Prince, the Desirs lived in a dilapidated single-floor apartment complex with a communal outhouse. ("The first time I saw a toilet was at the U.S. Embassy, when we had to provide a urine sample," says Myriam. "I was amazed.")

In St. Louis, the Desirs lived in a dilapidated multifloor apartment complex on the city's south side—that, to America's newest imports, didn't seem dilapidated at all. "You're little, and everything is big and new," says Pierre. "You don't know any better."

Although the Desirs spoke only Creole, Wilfrid and Marie immediately went to work, holding an array of low-paying blue-collar jobs ranging from food preparation to maintenance to garbage disposal.

"My first employment here, I made $7 an hour as a cook at Applebee's," says Wilfrid, his words wrapped in a thick Creole accent. "I held many positions. Applebee's cooks, Macaroni Grill cook, I cut grass Saturdays and Sundays."

"Everything was about education," says Marie, her accent even thicker. "We wanted our children to be educated so they could have better jobs than we did."

During their early years in America, the Desir family bounced from apartment to apartment and school to school. When Pierre was a third-grader at Froebel Elementary in the Gravois Park neighborhood, a classmate pulled a gun on a teacher and, at the neighboring gas station, a man was shot to death in an unrelated dispute.

"When you're living it and you're a kid, you think these things happen everywhere," Pierre says. "Then you realize, 'Wait, that was a really dangerous place to be.'"

Hence, at age 11, Pierre and his family relocated to St. Charles, a suburb 24 miles outside of the city. They settled into a three-bedroom rental in the Ashwood Apartments complex just off Highway 94. At night, Pierre and Myriam would fall asleep to the hum of passing traffic.

"It was not a nice place to live," says Chris Detmering, a childhood friend. "A lot of us were on the poor end of the spectrum, and the cops were there all the time."

By this point, two more children were added to the Desir clan, and Pierre shared a bedroom with his younger brothers, Jeff and Chris. Money was tight and space was tighter, and an oasis for Ashwood's youngsters came in the form of the sprawling green courtyard in the center of the facility.

Pierre had enjoyed some dazzling years as a local youth soccer star, overwhelming myriad YMCA leagues with such gusto that opposing coaches regularly demanded to see a birth certificate. "The funny thing," he says, "is that I was 10 and 11, playing in leagues for 13- and 14-year-olds."

Even as a boy, Pierre was an athletic marvel—long and sinewy, with the flexibility of a gymnast. He first dunked a basketball at 13—"I was so jealous of him," says Detmering—and friends often half-joked that he'd be playing professional something by his 18th birthday.

Yet for all his soccer exploits, Pierre's greatest hits came on the Ashwood field, where—in epic football clashes among friends—he'd line up as a wide receiver and repeatedly burst past defenders and cradle in touchdown passes.

"One fade route after another," he says, chuckling. "At that age, speed is a pretty good weapon."

Because of his father's soccer background, American football was never considered a serious option for Pierre. The Desirs didn't merely find the sport confusing—they barely knew of its existence.

Don Adams Jr.
Pierre Desir on the run for Francis Howell Central High.

So when a couple of neighborhood friends suggested Pierre try out for the freshman team at Francis Howell Central High, Wilfrid and Marie were bewildered. Football? Played without feet?

"He was very skinny," says Wilfrid. "It didn't seem like a good sport for skinny children." 

During his first practice, Pierre placed his shoulder pads on backward and put his knee pads on his thighs and his thigh pads on his knees. The Spartans played eight games that season, and Desir—a wide receiver and free safety—caught 10 touchdown passes.

"He was insane," says Steve Dieckhaus, a teammate. "He could jump higher than anyone, he was faster than everyone. Pierre doesn't brag, but he went out for track and, in his first-ever meet, broke the school long jump record. He just had it."

Desir was promoted to the varsity team as a sophomore, but he spent an uncomfortable amount of time on the bench as a backup wide receiver. Due to a teammate's injury, however, Pierre started the fourth game of the season, against archrival Fort Zumwalt West High. On the Spartans' first offensive play, he caught a 56-yard pass.

"That was it," says Pierre. "That changed it all. I became a starter, I was on the field all the time, I knew football was the sport for me. It was all right there, in front of me."

"Pierre," says Dieckhaus, "was going to be a superstar. You just knew it."

***

They met in a hallway.

Cliche be damned, that's how boys and girls come together in high school. He's leaning against the wall. She's fidgeting with her locker combination. A glance. A stare. A joke. Did you watch Entourage last night? Are you going to Steve's party? God, my math teacher is tough.

Pierre Desir was a junior football and basketball star. Handsome, dashing, smooth. Confident, without crossing the line to obnoxious cockiness. Morgan Julian was a junior dancer. Pretty, with long brown hair, almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. She had been a competitive dancer since age four—"jazz, hip-hop, ballet," she says. "All different styles, a lot of competitions."

"Morgan wasn't the type to go out with friends or get into trouble," says Christi Walker, her mother. "She was home all the time, either doing schoolwork or focused on dance. That's why I was so shocked …"

They dated for a couple of months. Two, maybe three. Simple stuff. Holding hands at lunch. Kissing. Things like that.

"I knew Pierre, because he'd come over to the house a couple of times," says Walker. "He was a nice kid. But to say I was blown away by what happened, well, that's probably not strong enough."

The pregnancy was unexpected for everyone. And upsetting. When Christi learned of the news, she hugged her daughter, went to bed and cried for two straight hours. "Morgan was an accomplished dancer," she says, "and I feared this would get in the way of her future."

Pierre waited three weeks to tell his parents. He was beginning to receive recruiting letters from Division I colleges. Michigan State. Kansas. Kansas State. "My dream was to play football," he says. "Then Morgan gets pregnant. I'm freaking out. What do I do?"

He tiptoed into his parents' bedroom one evening. Marie was alone. He collected his courage, lost it, then collected it again. "Mom," Pierre said, "you know Morgan, right?"

"Yes," Marie said. "Of course."

Long pause.

Longer pause.

Even longer pause.

"Well," Pierre said, "she's pregnant."

At that moment, as if on cue, Pierre's father, sister and brothers entered the room. It was Three's Company timing. The kid had to say something. "Everybody, you know Morgan," Pierre said. "She's pregnant!"

"I was livid, as was my father," says Myriam. "Even at 15, I knew he was so talented, and I couldn't wait to see what would come of it. He didn't make a wise choice. We were all hurt, and shocked. We needed time to soak it all in."

Over the ensuing nine months, anger morphed into acceptance, and acceptance into embracement.

"You learn some things when you're a high school kid expecting a baby," says Pierre. "Some friends leave and never come back. They can't handle it. You get stares in the hallway. People treat you differently. It hurts. But others stand by you, and those are the ones I'm still friends with."

On the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2007, Pierre was collecting the school trash as part of an activity with his environmental studies class. His cell phone rang. It was Christie, Morgan's mother. She was standing in a hallway at St. Joseph Hospital West in St. Louis.

"Your daughter is here," she said. "She has your feet and she has your hands. She's very beautiful."

Don Adams Jr.

Pierre, now a 16-year-old father, called his mom. He didn't have a driver's license and needed a ride to meet his child. When he finally arrived at St. Joseph, he found himself overwhelmed by the moment.

"It was weird," he says. "I had a lot of emotions. Happy emotions, but also scared. I literally didn't know what to do next. I'm a father, but I'm a boy. All my friends are driving around, doing whatever kids that age do. And I'm standing there, holding this little baby."

With Keeli's arrival, Pierre presumed his college and sports dreams to be dead. He worked part-time at a Jack in the Box, slinging hamburgers and fries, and was accepting of the idea that his lot in life was forever sealed. Wilfrid and Marie, along with Christi, however, had none of it.

The three agreed to do all they could to help raise their new granddaughter, and insisted Pierre and Morgan go as far as possible with schooling. That's how, as a senior, Pierre earned first-team All-State honors as a defensive back.

"We didn't want him to have a life of jobs paying $6 an hour," says Marie. "We wanted better for him."

"It became clear the best way I could help raise my daughter was to succeed in college and give myself a chance—either through education or through football," Pierre says. "Everyone was very supportive of the dream, which made it seem possible."

***

One major problem.

Pierre Desir—B student, intelligent young man, devoted father to Keeli and devoted partner to Morgan—couldn't figure out the ACTs. It remains inexplicable, even six years later. Pierre doesn't get it. Morgan doesn't get it. Friends, family members, coaches—nobody understands how he couldn't reach the attainable score of 19 on the college entrance exam.

"I took it three times," he says, "and each time I got a 17. I even had a tutor. It's kind of humiliating."

There would be no Michigan State or Kansas State or Kansas. A kid without the test scores is crabgrass to Division I colleges—especially if he's less than a marquee prospect. Patrick Peterson from Pompano Beach, Florida, and Brandon Harris of Miami were elite high school defensive backs who had the big schools drooling. Pierre Desir was merely thought to be very good.

"It was heartbreaking," he says. "I didn't know what to do or where to go."

One possibility entered his head. A year earlier, Ryan Mertz, a senior tight end at Francis Howell Central High, left to attend Washburn University, a Division II school in Topeka, Kansas. Mertz raved to his former teammate about his experience, and spoke highly of the head coach, a gritty New Jersey native named Craig Schurig.

"I visited just to see Ryan, not anything official," Pierre says. "I liked the school, liked what I heard about everything."

Because Washburn was Division II, Desir's underwhelming ACT performance didn't factor in eligibility. In fact, Schurig was long known as a coach willing to take athletes with struggles and help them find success (late last year, for example, he came under fire for allowing running back Vershon Moore, convicted of armed robbery, back on the roster after his arrest).

He also impressed Wilfrid and Marie by coming to St. Charles for a personal visit. His words resonated with parents who placed family and education above all else: I will watch out for Pierre. I will help guide Pierre. I will make sure Pierre graduates.

"We trusted Craig would do a good job," says Wilfrid. "And, in many ways, he did."

The biggest problem with Washburn was distance. Topeka was 290 miles from St. Charles, and by now Pierre had made clear his top two priorities were Morgan and Keeli. As most of his friends focused upon weekend parties and trips to the movies and Madden Xbox battles, Pierre was solidifying his relationship with Morgan, who—with the birth of their child—went from mere high school girlfriend to soulmate.

Despite their youth, the couple quickly learned the art of co-parenting. Keeli lived with Morgan and Christi, and Pierre came for daily visits, often staying the nights.

"From day one he was a part of everything," says Christi. "I had no idea how Pierre would be as a father. I mean, he was so young. But he's amazing. Diapers, bottles, feeding—he was a key part of everything. Keeli was his entire world. You could not choose a better person to be in that position. He's a phenomenal father."

Photo courtesy of Pierre Desir

The idea of moving to Topeka was a dagger to Pierre's neck. He didn't want to leave. He hated the idea of missing his daughter's milestones and moments. He feared being forgotten. Being ignored. And yet—he needed this. His parents didn't leave Haiti...didn't work two and three jobs so their son could spend his days flipping burgers or mowing lawns.

He was gifted with intelligence and athleticism, and it was required—by family honor—that he utilize them. "It crushed me," he says. "But I went to Kansas."

With rare exception, Schurig redshirted his freshmen, so Pierre spent his first year practicing with the team, then watching Saturday's games from the sidelines. As soon as the final whistle sounded, he would climb into his brown Toyota Camry ("I bought it used at Pappas Toyota," he says proudly. "It was a 1997 model—$3,000!") and make the four-and-a-half-hour trek back to St. Charles, where his girlfriend and daughter eagerly awaited. On Sunday nights, accompanied by a gym bag stuffed with clothes and a painfully heavy heart, he returned to campus.

That ritual continued Desir's second year at Washburn, and while his on-field play was spectacular (he was named a second-team All-American, leading the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association with seven interceptions and 13 pass defenses), his spirit was broken.

In his first-ever college game, Desir returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown against Colorado School of Mines, then spent the return trip from Colorado wondering what Keeli had for dinner.

On Oct. 17, Desir lit up Yager Stadium by returning a kickoff 73 yards against Pittsburg State—but he wasn't able to enjoy the after-parties with teammates. He was in the Camry, trying to stay under 80 mph. "It beat me up, it beat the car up," he says. "I was lonely, I was struggling. I missed my family."

That's why, leading into his junior year (redshirt sophomore season), Pierre and Morgan (now pregnant with the couple's second child) reached a difficult-yet-satisfying decision: They would pay $500 per month to rent an off-campus pad in Topeka's Whispering Pines apartment complex, and parent together.

"Both of us came from very strong families," says Morgan. "And even though we were young, we wanted Keeli to be with her mom and dad. So I went to a place where I knew one person, because it was important—important to me, important to Pierre."

The Topeka Capital-Journal
Pierre Desir (12) with Washburn University in 2010.

The fall of 2010 was a remarkable one for Desir. On the field, he was as good as ever, recording 46 tackles, two sacks and five interceptions.

"He was the best cornerback I've ever seen," says Travis Mosby, a Washburn wide receiver. "When he got in his stance and you saw those long arms swinging down, you knew those hands were going straight for your throat. You knew he had NFL potential. It was obvious."

Off the field, well, things were...interesting. On Oct. 10, Kamryn Desir, Pierre and Morgan's second daughter, was born, and after spending her first few days in St. John's Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, she came to Topeka to live with Mom and Dad.

"Which," says Morgan, "was really hard."

The Desirs had no childcare assistance, and they spent the year in a constant state of exhaustion.

"The most difficult time was during the spring," says Desir. "We had spring practices at 5:30 a.m., so I could, technically, sleep until 5-ish. But Kamryn was only a couple of months old, and she'd wake up every two hours."

Because Morgan had endured much of Keeli's infancy without his nighttime help, Pierre insisted he would be the one to rise with Kamryn's wails. "And he did," says Morgan. "He was amazing."

When Kamryn cried for a bottle at midnight, Pierre fed her. Then again at 2. And 4. "When she slept, I slept," he says. "When she cried, I'd get up, feed her a bottle, play with her a little, then put her back to sleep."

Come 5 a.m., Pierre—bleary eyed, half asleep—tiptoed out of the house and drove the Camry to Yager Stadium, where practices were held. The sessions generally lasted 90 minutes, after which he would attend classes, then requisite strength-and-conditioning sessions.

"I would get home between 3 and 4 in the afternoon," he says, "and that's when it'd actually get crazy." Upon arriving at the apartment, Pierre would hand the car keys to Morgan, who then drove to her job as an instructor at CAGE Gymnastics.

"I'd cook dinner at 5," says Pierre. "Usually pork chops, spaghetti, something like that. I'd give Kamryn her bottle, and while I'm cooking and feeding I'm also trying to sneak in some homework. I'd have the baby under one arm, the bottle in my hand, sitting in front of my laptop."

When Morgan returned to the apartment, usually around 9:30 p.m., there would be a Pierre Desir-prepared dinner plate awaiting her. "I'd stay up for a while, do my homework, try and go to sleep, wake up with the baby," says Pierre. "Needless to say, I fell asleep in a lot of classes."

"You could sense that he felt a lot of stress," says Mertz. "That's not to say Pierre didn't handle things well. He handled it as well as anyone could have. But it was hard. He didn't unravel, but he was definitely more unstrung than in the past."

Throughout the year, Desir refused to complain. He was beyond exhausted, and struggling in class, and somewhat unfocused—but hadn't his parents been through 100 times worse? Leaving everything behind? Coming to a new country and not speaking the language? Working two, three jobs?

"I kept it to myself," he says. "But it was tough."

The Topeka Capital-Journal
Washburn coach Craig Schurig.

One of the few people who seemed to genuinely understand was Schurig, the ninth-year Ichabod head coach and father of three children. Unlike so many in his shoes, Schurig didn't appear to be bottom line-oriented. He radiated empathy toward his players and maintained a strict open-door policy.

When he recruited Desir, he knew he would be receiving a player with a child, and insisted it could all work out. "I sat across from Pierre's father, looked him in the eye and promised him I'd care for his son," says Schurig. "I took that pledge very seriously."

Schurig knew the stress Desir was under, and he says he tried to help make his life as stress-free as possible. If his star cornerback had to be somewhere for his girlfriend or children, it was rarely a problem. "Family comes first," says Schurig. "Of course. I let Pierre know my stance."

That's why, for Pierre Desir, what happened next was so shocking.

•••

Before we go forward, let's head backward.

On Dec. 8, 2005, Craig Schurig traveled to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to interview for the open head football coach position at Southeast Missouri State University.

Although he was under contract at Washburn, and although he had, in the course of recruiting players, promised myriad mothers and fathers that he would look after their sons, nobody seemed to begrudge Schurig for seeking employment elsewhere.

After all, Southeast Missouri State was a jump from Division II to Division I-AA, with a pay raise, too. In other words, it would be a good move for Schurig, his wife Louisa and the kids.

Alas, the Redhawks wound up hiring a Purdue assistant named Tony Samuel, and Schurig returned to Topeka, undamaged. "I am very happy at Washburn," he told The Topeka Capital-Journal upon learning of the rejection. "We have a lot of positive things going on, and I'm happy to be here."

Toward the end of the 2010-11 academic year, Pierre Desir was no longer happy to be at Washburn. He was battered and frustrated, and longed to be back in St. Charles. Both he and Morgan had traveled to Kansas City to apply for child support services via the Missouri Department of Social Services, and their requests were denied.

That February, following Keeli's fourth birthday party at a children's entertainment center called Pump It Up, Pierre shocked Morgan by approaching with a wedding ring as her cousin, Lacee Ames, held aloft a sign that read, "WILL YOU MARRY ME?"

"I was shaking," says Pierre. "And she started crying. We had been through so much together..."

Photo courtesy of Pierre Desir
Morgan and Pierre Desir's wedding picture.

Now, with the two kids and the engagement, enough was enough. Pierre had appreciated Schurig's support and dedication, but he made the decision to transfer to Lindenwood University, an obscure NAIA school in his hometown of St. Charles. That way, his parents, as well as Morgan's mother, could assist with childcare and allow him to sleep more than three hours per night while focusing on studying and football.

In order to be able to immediately receive an athletic scholarship from his new college, Desir would have to be granted a release via Schurig. "I had no reason to believe he wouldn't say OK," says Desir. "I mean, there was no possible way, right?"

The thinking was understandable. Within the past couple of weeks, two members of Desir's recruiting class—wide receivers Marcus Mau and Travis Mosby—had requested, and been granted, their scholarship releases.

"I didn't really have a great reason," says Mosby. "I played in high school with the quarterback at Central Methodist, and they were playing five wide receivers and throwing for like 5,000 yards. I thought it sounded great. I told Coach my thinking, he argued a little bit, then signed my release. Not a big problem."

Armed with that knowledge, Desir—with Morgan and the children by his side—arranged a meeting with Schurig. He explained how they were broke. He explained how they were fatigued. He explained how they needed to return home, where so many able-bodied family members awaited.

He explained that, while he enjoyed the Washburn experience, it was no longer a good fit, and that he and Morgan wanted to raise their children with their grandparents.

Schurig listened—and said no.

Wait, hold on. Before he said no, Schurig suggested Morgan, Keeli and Kamryn return to St. Charles without Pierre. "I remember looking at Morgan right after he said that," says Pierre. "I'd never seen her so angry."

Desir, too, was furious. When Schurig assured him the drive to St. Charles wasn't so awful, he snapped, "I know how long it is—I did it every weekend for two years."

According to Desir, Schurig then told him that, "If you were an adult and you had a family and you had to travel for work, you'd do this." To which Desir says he replied, "I'm in college. I'm only getting paid in a scholarship."

"Well," replied Schurig, "we're not going to release you."

Desir says he, Morgan and the children left the office—never to speak with the coach again. "Want to know the worst part? I loved and admired him," says Desir. "But I felt betrayed."

Don Adams Jr.

Though Schurig says he had empathy for Desir, he does not believe he was wrong.

"Look, she could have gone back with the girls and he could have stayed in college," he says. "He made the decision he felt was best for him, and I made the decision I felt was best for Washburn. In our program, we redshirt kids with the idea that they'll be here for their junior and senior years. We teach them and groom them—it's a commitment both ways. We work to develop you, you stay and play through your senior year."

But, Schurig is asked, didn't you let other players, like Mau and Mosby, depart with little fuss? "Different circumstances," he says. "All circumstances are different."

But, Schurig is asked, shouldn't Desir have been commended for wanting to take care of his fiancee and children? "Yes," he says, "but my first priority is Washburn football."

But, Schurig is asked, while you talk about loyalty and commitment—haven't you released people from their scholarships if they didn't perform up to athletic expectations? "Yes," he says, "but rarely."

But, Schurig is asked, what about coaches interviewing for jobs at other schools? "I guess," he says, "that's an additional way to look at it. But it's not really the same."

Why isn't it the same?

"Well," says the coach who wouldn't set Pierre Desir free, "it just isn't."

***

To the great chagrin of Schurig and the Washburn football program, in the spring of 2011 Pierre Desir left Topeka, never to return. Upon reaching a decision, he called Patrick Ross, the head coach at Lindenwood.

"I obviously knew who Pierre Desir was, because he was a local kid with a ton of talent," says Ross. "We sent a release form to Washburn, but they refused to sign it. At that point, there wasn't much we could do. Once he got to school he could practice with us, but he couldn't have a scholarship for a year. It would take a real financial sacrifice on his part."

Pierre, Morgan and the two girls moved in with Christi, and he enrolled for fall classes while taking out a slew of student loans. He desperately needed money to help feed and clothe his children, so he began working with Labor Ready, a temp agency in St. Charles that focused upon rugged blue-collar tasks.

Every morning at 6 o'clock, Desir showed up at the office, hoping to be assigned a job. His first opportunity came early that fall, when he was entrusted to help clean out an old, broken-down school in St. Louis.

"The bathrooms in particular were disgusting," says Desir. "There was crap everywhere. Not just on the toilets. On the walls, on the sinks. We had to wear masks, and I was scrubbing the crap off the walls. At the end of the day, they gave me a paycheck for $40."

Pierre assumed that would be the worst of it. He was wrong. During flood season, he was dispatched to an apartment complex in St. Peters, where the basement had morphed into a knee-high brown swamp.

"There was human feces everywhere, diapers, clothing, roofing. The pink insulation was soaked, and some of it touched my skin. I couldn't get rid of the itch, but I also couldn't leave, because I needed that $40."

It was at that moment—boots covered in waste, skin red and blotchy, check in hand—when Desir thought back to Schurig and wondered, "Why?" Why couldn’t he have let him go free? Why did he seem to care so much about football games, but not about a young man and his family?

"I was mad, I was sad, I was confused," Desir says. "I wondered how my life had gotten to this point, and whether there was any escape. I was trying to do the right things, and nothing was really working out. For the first time, I thought I blew it all."

Then, slowly, things began to turn around.

First, on Dec. 10, 2011, Pierre and Morgan were married at the Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, with an ensuing reception at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Then, within weeks, Pierre was hired by a man named Joe Pachmayer to sell cellular phones at his Boost Mobile store.

"Joe knew my family, and he knew I needed a job," says Desir. "He gave me $9 per hour plus commission, and I was finally working somewhere where I could stay clean and, when the store was slow, do some studying. After cleaning crap, it was wonderful.

"Just wonderful."

***

In the fall of 2012, Pierre Desir finally suited up for the Lindenwood University Lions. The school was in the process of jumping from NAIA to Division II, and for a man who’d been rejected by his former coach, who waded through feces, well, the first game couldn’t arrive soon enough.

It arrived.

Desir stunk.

It’s true. The Lions opened at Lincoln University on Sept. 1, and while they won 49-28, the new starting cornerback was something of a mess.

"I was so anxious and excited, the coaches had to tell me to calm down and take a deep breath," he says. "But imagine going through all I experienced and finally returning to do what you love. It was messy, but emotional."

All the lingering doubts over whether he had made the right decision evaporated as a dream season unfolded. With his wife, daughters, parents, siblings and mother-in-law in attendance at most home games, Desir emerged as Division II’s best defensive back. His nine interceptions ranked second among all NCAA players, and he tied for the NCAA Division II lead with 18 passes defended.

"Most important, we were happy," he says. "I can’t tell you how great it is, looking up and seeing so much love. It’s changed everything."

Desir was an easy All-American selection, then repeated this past season. Even though few quarterbacks threw his way, he still had four interceptions and eight pass breakups.

"He eliminates half the field for the other team’s offense," says Ross. "That’s how good he is." At year’s end, Desir was given the Cliff Harris Award as the top defensive player at the NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and NAIA levels.

Photo courtesy of Pierre Desir

The NFL scouts, naturally, noticed. They began arriving at Lindenwood practices in packs of three and four, asking to see Desir backpedal, curious about his cuts. He played in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, and is considered by most a lock to be drafted between the second and sixth rounds.

He took this spring off from school to focus exclusively on football, and recently spent several weeks in Dallas working with Willie Pile, a former NFL defensive back, at the 4th and Inches Sports Performance facility.

"Is Pierre Desir ready for the NFL?" says Pile. "Absolutely. First off, you look at his size and see the prototype big corner. Second, he’s cat quick, and his change-of-direction skills are amazing. Third—and maybe most important—is his maturity. This isn’t a kid trying to figure out life. It’s a man. A grown man who understands what’s on the line, and will do anything to succeed."

Over the course of the past several weeks, Desir has sat down for multiple chats with team executives. They want to measure his football IQ. They want to measure his toughness. Can he take a hit? Can he bounce back? Can he recover from the toughest blows?

Generally, Pierre Desir just smiles.

The answers speak for themselves.

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