BOGACZYK: Pearson Brings Deep Resume to Herd Backfield Job
The Word on the Herd-April 9, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – In his high school, college and pro football career, Pepe Pearson rushed for nearly 5 miles.
He starred at Euclid High in suburban Cleveland – 4,447 yards, 43 touchdowns – then gained 3,076 yards as a four-season starter (1994-97) at Ohio State, where he was a team MVP, won a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl, gained a degree in sociology and also played in the Citrus and Sugar bowls for teams that went a combined 41-10.
He bounced around multiple NFL camps and NFL practice squads, and helped the Rhein Fire win an NFL Europe title in the 2000 World Bowl in his two overseas seasons that included 1,083 rushing yards.
After four years as a pro, he’s coached high school, college and indoor pro football. He’s been a head coach and an assistant, even a general manager for one indoor team. And in 10 years as a college assistant coach at Ohio Dominican and last season at Youngstown State, Pearson’s backs have included four 1,000-yard rushers and a Harlon Hill Trophy semifinalist.
That brought Pearson to Marshall as the new running backs coach two months ago. His connection was Herd tight ends coach Todd Goebbel, with whom Pearson coached for five seasons at Dominican.
So, Pearson has been there, done that … but the 40-year-old coach by no means has accomplished what he wants.
“I guess in the profession – especially when you’re at the lower levels – you’re always looking to see if there’s a spot open,” Pearson said. “In this case, I was contacted … ‘We know you just got to Youngstown last year, but would you be interested to come see what this is all about.’ I said, ‘Sure.’
“Obviously, I have aspirations of moving up to a certain level, so Marshall was one of those things I wanted to check out, and it ended up being a good fit.”
Herd Coach Doc Holliday, approaching his seventh season, has built a reputation for not only his recruiting acumen, but also his ability to make good staff hires. And he’s had more than a few assistants leave for power conference staffs.
Pearson had heard that, but the native Ohioan’s decision was rooted elsewhere.
“Really, it was not based on that,” Pearson said. “Coming into it, I didn’t look at it that way. I looked at it as a great opportunity to go a storied program, one with history, with tradition, and obviously is a step up from Youngstown State, per se.
“That’s as far as I looked at it. My whole vision is to – yes, I want to get to a certain level, but I consider myself a hard worker, so I looked at it as great opportunity and work hard and hey, the sky’s the limit. Do my job and focus on what I need to do, that’s my perspective right now.
“I’d love someday to coach my alma mater, Ohio State, and then from there, I also have aspirations of being a head coach down the line.
“That is a real goal of mine. A lot of times, I don’t really say those things, but that is a goal for me, to be a head coach.”
It’s a busy few months for Pepe (pronounced PEP-ay) Lepedro Pearson. He not only moved into a new job, but the father of three – daughter Mychal, 18; sons London, 17, and Roman 12 -- is getting married June 25 to fiancee Semoine Hudson. First, he’s trying to sell himself and his philosophies to Herd running backs this month in spring practice.
“Obviously, I want my running backs to be prepared mentally, because a lot of what football is is the preparation and mental part,” Pearson replied when asked about his approach to coaching the position. “I do want my guys to have a certain toughness in regards to their mentality, really in everything they do. “They need toughness and need to be leaders in the best group in the country. I always say, ‘Don’t strive to be the best at Marshall. We want to be the best group collectively in the country.’ And we’re in a venue where we can make that happen. All we have to do is put our heads down and work hard, concentrate. That’s pretty much what I preach, the big points.”
He isn’t trying to wow Herd backs with his own history that is deep and varied in the game, but it does make his selling points subliminally stronger.
“I think that plays into it a lot,” Pearson said when asked if his Buckeyes’ and pro resume aid his push for what he wants. “And I don’t really talk about my history to them. They end up asking some, and I think it does speak to them because they do know their coach has played at the highest level of college football. He has some NFL experiences as well. So, I’ve made it to where they want to go and they do show a level of respect in regards to listening to what I have to say and respecting what I have to say.
“Between the NFL and NFL Europe, I was there four years – not a long, long career but for a running back, it’s OK. And it’s about the average. I wasn’t a superstar, but again I was there and I got a chance to be coached by pro coaches and play in professional games, etc.
“So, I feel like I have all of that background and knowledge as far as coaching the high school level, collegiate level, pro level, and playing at the high school, collegiate and NFL level. All of that experience, I can give back to them. That’s what I get excited about.”
Until Pearson came from Youngstown to campus to be interviewed by Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg, his knowledge of Marshall had the same roots as many others in the nation.
“I had never been here,” Pearson said. “The closest I had ever gotten to Marshall was seeing the (We Are Marshal) movie, to be honest. But watching the movie and stuff, it makes you understand that unfortunately that tragedy happened, but there is a rich history here.
“There is a tradition here and those are the things I kind of get excited about in regards to college football in general. There are different traditions all over the country, and I’m fortunate and glad I’m able to be a part of this one and continue to help build this program from the already high level it is now.”
In returnees Hyleck Foster, Tony Pittman and Keion Davis, Pearson has plenty of returning talent and versatility to work with in the backfield, where redshirt freshman Delvin Weems and Ellis Cain are learning the ropes.
“What I’ve seen so far, the guys I have right now, in regards to those (returning) three, they all have talent,” the new Herd assistant said. “I think they’re talented enough, but what I’ve tried to work on is in regards to how to get better. Collectively, they all need to pay attention to details a little bit more, especially the younger guys because they don’t have that experience yet.
“What I’m trying to stress to them is you really have to focus on the details because that’s what’s going to help you be more consistent over a long period of time, over a complete season. You can’t do something right three times and then screw it up three times.
“So, my message to them is the guys that really make it and the guys that really become great are the guys who can do the same thing over and over again for a long period of time. That’s the definition of ‘consistency’ in my mind, and that’s what you need in football.”
For all of his success on collegiate Saturdays and pro Sundays in uniform, Pearson said it’s what he learned other days of the week that he thinks is most crucial for the Herd rushers to grasp.
“The biggest thing I picked up that I think is so important to playing running back is it comes down to preparation,” he said. “It’s the preparation part – the things you do before you even play a game, taking care of your body, really paying attention to film study – those are the most important things.
“That’s because if you can be successful with the things you do before playing a game – the work you really put in – then the game then becomes easy. The mental and physical preparation really is it.”