Cloudy
48°
Cloudy
Hi 50° | Lo 29°

Force Versus Force

Dartmouth Star RB Faces Harvard’s Tough Defense

Dominick Pierre

Dominick Pierre

Hanover — When the Dartmouth College football team has the ball today at Harvard, there isn’t likely to be a whole lot of subterfuge at hand. The Big Green will give the pigskin to running back Dominick Pierre and the Crimson will do their best to stop him.

Pierre, a senior from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., leads the Ivy League in rushing with an average of 128 yards per league contest. Harvard (5-1, 2-1) tops the Ancient Eight by allowing only 100 yards rushing per game. Given that Dartmouth’s receiving corps is weakened by injury, a lot of ground-based collisions seem likely.

“Our number one focus entering any game is stopping the run,” Harvard defensive back D.J. Monroe told his university’s student newspaper. “I’m sure the line will be getting after those guys down low in the gaps and making it harder to find lanes to run through.”

If anyone can find a way, it’s probably Pierre, although his own line will have a lot to do with it. The unit struggled mightily two weeks ago during a deflating loss to Bucknell, often failing to protect quarterback Dalyn Williams while Dartmouth managed only 76 rushing yards. Columbia provided little opposition during last week’s 56-0 loss at Memorial Field.

If Dartmouth (3-3, 2-1) wins at Harvard Stadium for the first time since 2003, it will remain in prime contention for its first Ivy title since 1996. If it loses, that hope will all but vanish and the future of coach Buddy Teevens and his staff will become even more tenuous.

There is a lot on the line and Pierre’s parents, Marie Jones and Jude Saintil, will be there to see the drama unfold.

Jones and Saintil never married each other and Dominick took his mother’s maiden surname, although she later changed her own when she entered into a marriage that has since dissolved. An accountant and a native of the Bahamas, she didn’t tell her son until he was 9 that Saintil was his biological father.

Pierre said he always knew her husband, father of Dominick’s two younger half-siblings, was not a blood relative.

“I asked my mom who my father was and she said God,” Pierre recalled with a chuckle. “I was pretty pumped up about that. But she finally thought it was time to tell me the truth and I ended up meeting (Saintil) and his side of the family. He lived in Palm Beach and I’d go spend the weekends with my brothers and sisters on that side.”

Saintil, a Haitian native who said he and Jones first began a relationship when they were teenagers in the U.S., has worked various jobs in the automotive industry. He said he was regularly present in his son’s life, but in an unspecified role as part of Pierre’s extended family.

“He will tell you he didn’t know I was his father, but he would call others ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ and he never did that with me,” Saintil said with a laugh. “It was a strange thing and there were many times we wanted to tell him, but we thought it was best to hold on.”

Saintil was a talented soccer player, and he and Dominick bonded over pickup basketball, but south Florida is football-mad and the boy started playing in fourth grade. By the time he reached his sophomore year at Calvary Christian Academy, a school with fewer than 300 students at the time, he was a track sprinter, a 189-pound wrestler who finished third in the state and a standout running back and linebacker.

“He could run and catch passes, he could sniff out plays on defense and he returned punts,” recalled Jason Kaiser, his high school coach, who twice guided the Eagles to the state semifinals in Florida’s smallest enrollment class during Pierre’s time on campus. “He had a skill set that most kids don’t have.”

Pierre visited Lafayette, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania and decided to commit to the Quakers during the winter of his senior year.

“They were really pressuring me to make the decision,” he said, recalling how Penn coach Al Bagnoli made an unannounced visit to Calvary Christian one day to turn up the heat. “I called to commit a few days later and no one picked up the phone. I left messages and my mom left messages and no one called back. She got pretty upset and we said, ‘This is messed up.’

“Finally, they called back and said things didn’t work out. I still don’t understand exactly what happened.”

Jones, who had visited Lafayette with her son, then urged him to become a Leopard. Pierre was leaning toward traveling farther north. Conflicted, he sought divine guidance.

“I went to scripture and asked God where he wanted me to go and what he saw in my future,” Pierre said. “Then I told my mom I wanted to go to Dartmouth.”

Pierre won the Big Green’s Earl Hamilton Freshman Award after appearing in all 10 games and running for 362 yards and four touchdowns behind star Nick Schwieger, who graduated in 2012 as the school’s career rushing leader. Pierre had nearly identical statistics as a sophomore, but blossomed last fall with 830 yards and nine touchdowns as Dartmouth’s featured back.

Despite ankle and shoulder injuries, Pierre averaged five yards per carry as a junior, a performance level at which he’s been his entire college career. He twice earned Dartmouth’s Jake Crouthamel Award as the sophomore or junior who contributes the most to the team’s success.

“He’s a special player because he’s tough and unselfish and he’s made so many big plays for us,” Teevens said. “He’ll pass protect, he’ll throw a critical block, he’ll take the tough carry up inside.

“He takes a lot of hits and just keeps coming back. He’s very elusive and a lot of what he does to gain yards is subtle.”

Pierre, 5-feet-11 and 215 pounds, lacks breakaway speed and doesn’t explode into the hole the way Schwieger did, but he may be better at using his blockers and he’s an added weapon in the passing game. He’s piled up 777 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this fall, but is also second on the team in receptions with 18 for 194 yards, many of them in crucial, third-down jams.

“Everybody admires how hard he works and he expects us to work as hard as he does,” senior guard Cohle Fowler said. “He could play anywhere in the country, with his speed and power.”

Amid a crowd that could be as large as 20,000 fans today, Jones and Saintil will watch their son with anticipation and anxiety. The father will cheer for No. 29 to deliver the blows while the mother will wince when her baby absorbs them. Down below, Pierre will be oblivious to those reactions but aware that his time with the Big Green is slipping away. He dreams of getting a shot at the NFL but knows there are no guarantees.

“It’s hard to believe we only have four games left this season,” he said. “It’s just something I try to savor and cherish, because you never know which game is your last.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.