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Many of the players who will be selected in the NFL draft, starting Thursday, will come in familiar wrappings, that fine silk of college football — Texas A&M or the University of South Carolina or Auburn University. The bright lights will come on for draft night, and those players will act as though they have been on the big stage hundreds of times as they saunter before the cameras and slip on the jersey of the team that has selected them. They’ll trade familiar wrappings for different but still familiar ones as they become Bills, Jaguars and Texans.
Pierre Desir’s wrappings are anything but fine silk. He was groomed for pro ball at hustling and scrappy programs like Washburn and Lindenwood University — destinations found only using Google Maps. When his name is called on national television, many viewers will turn to owls.
But that introduction will be the culmination of a journey during which Desir has had a lifetime of experiences and challenges that his coach and others believe helped prepare him for what awaits. And they think the NFL and its fans will know his name soon enough.
“The team that picks him in the draft is going to get the whole package,” Lindenwood head coach Pat Ross said of the cornerback. “He is not flamboyant or arrogant like some others who play that position. He doesn’t lack confidence, but he is calm, cool and collected. He doesn’t have that showmanship, and teams really like that about him.”
Desir is a 23-year-old who finished his college career in St. Charles, Missouri, at Division II Lindenwood. He should be chosen no later than the third round of the three-day, seven-round draft. NFL teams covet his height (6 foot 1), accompanying reach (33 inches) and instincts (13 interceptions his junior and senior seasons). If he is picked, he will the first player in Lindenwood’s history to be drafted by an NFL team.
But he is important to this draft and to the NFL for more than his skills. Teams examine the character of players almost as deeply as they do football skills, and scouts pay attention to baggage — those things off the field that could limit a player’s production. Desir handled his baggage with poise, and he stepped out of the spotlight to do it, playing at small college programs off the national grid.
He dug himself a hole as a teenager, becoming a father at 16, when he was still in high school. His grades were so poor, he could not qualify for a scholarship to a Division I football school. Now Desir is the proud father of two daughters, 7 and 3, and is married to the mother of their children. He just needs just to complete an internship to earn a degree in secondary education and history from Lindenwood.
While some players are on a Hollywood tour as the draft approaches, making red-carpet and talk-show appearances, Desir is crawling around on the floor with his daughters playing with blocks or playing various roles in their make-believe stories. He is, depending on the day, a pirate, a troll or a monster the girls gleefully run away from. He is a dad soothing a bump or a scrape.
“One of the great things for me was my parents were very supportive of me and they didn’t try and push me away from my situation,” Desir said. “They did everything they could to help me. They knew I had to be in my daughter’s life, whether I was with the mother or not. They just gave me guidance along the way and taught me things and corrected my mistakes. I just listened and did what I was told.”
‘Worked hard for everything’
His parents, Wilfrid and Marie, brought Desir to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 4. Today they work at a nursing home, Wilfrid in maintenance and Marie as a housekeeper. While he was a college football star, Desir was a janitor in a labor pool.
“I was raised in the church and went to church every Sunday and Wednesday and sometimes on Fridays,” he said. “It was morals and hard work — that’s what they taught me. They worked hard for everything. They got three kids into college working multiple jobs. Just seeing them work hard and having their faith and doing everything right is something I looked up on.”
So if Desir conducts his business in the NFL the next few years with more maturity than most players, there will be a reason. You grow up quickly when you are accountable to two children and there are midnight runs for diapers or a baby’s medicine, he said. Snooze buttons on the alarm are for other college football players.
“At times it felt like it was too much,” he said. “I was 16, 17 and 18, and I had a daughter I had to worry about and buying diapers and formula. Then I’m worrying about class and practice in college. I had great support from my parents and my wife’s parents. It does get overwhelming, and it takes a toll on you, but I was blessed to have that support.”
It was a panicked life for Desir and his wife, Morgan, but now his children are part of his support group. A rough day of practice is left on the practice field.
“They will get you out of any anger you are feeling real quick if you come home and they want you to play dolls with them, play dress-up,” he said. “Them being kids makes it a lot easier, flipping that switch from tough football guy to dad when you come in the door after practice.”
“I do it all. I pretend I’m invisible, play tag, run around. What they ask me to do, I will do.”
Ross, Lindenwood’s head coach, said Desir was given flexibility in scheduling to balance his family responsibilities but never used it as an excuse to miss practice or skip drills.
“His demeanor on the practice field was outstanding,” Ross said. “With him obviously being the best player in our league and coming to practice every day with that same effort and intensity, it did a lot for our program — especially the young guys — to watch and compete every day. Everybody knew how good he was, and he still pushed himself every day.”
A standout in high school, Desir went to college at Washburn, a Division II program in Topeka, Kansas, where he played as a freshman and sophomore. When money became tight at Washburn and day care became too expensive with two daughters, he and Morgan decided they had to move back to St. Charles and get some help with the children from their families.
Desir was a Division II All-American in 2012 and 2013. He had 13 interceptions in 21 games at Lindenwood, albeit against small college competition. He had 12 interceptions as a freshman and sophomore at Washburn, which is also Division II.
In January, Desir’s agent, Greg Linton, hounded the Senior Bowl All-Star Game to give his client a chance to play against Division I receivers. Desir was invited and was just as sticky a defender against top-level players as he was against D-II players. He intercepted a pass in the game, and scouts were impressed with his practices throughout Senior Bowl week.
“Some people that I know who were in similar positions I was in as a teenager went a different route,” Desir said. “You have to have a goal. That’s what helped me. Some people did not have a goal. I knew I wanted to play in the NFL, and I knew there were steps I had to go through. I set a goal and stuck to it no matter what and fought through the adversity.”