Glancing over the names of the several defensive backs who visited the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, one jumped out at me more than the others: Lindenwood University corner Pierre Desir.
Desir was the only player out of that group who did not attend a Division I school. Yet at least one site that ranks draft prospects, CBSSports.com, projected him to be picked in the third round, earlier than two other bigger-school cornerbacks the Saints brought in.
I asked Desir via Twitter whether I could interview him but didn’t hear back. I also asked his agent, who suggested he’d prefer it if Desir spoke with me following the May 8-10 draft.
Nonetheless, I was curious about how a player who talent evaluators believe is fit for the NFL arrived from a place like Lindenwood, which is in St. Charles, Mo. And Desir, I learned, recently told the story to a podcast published on the site RamsAddiction.com.
Desir — who was born in Haiti but grew up in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters, Mo. — couldn’t academically qualify to a Division I school after finishing up at Francis Howell Central High School. Having stood out as a defensive back and kick returner, he accepted a scholarship to Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.
He redshirted one season and played two years at Washburn, which was enough time to pick off the third-most passes in school history (12). He was all-conference twice and an All-American once.
However, he was also raising two daughters with the woman who’s now his wife. “It was very difficult to balance school, football and taking care of two kids” without help from family, Desir told Rams Addiction.
So the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Desir gave up his scholarship and transferred to Lindenwood, which is about eight miles away from his hometown and — like Washburn — is in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).
“It had nothing to do with the team,” Desir said to his hosts on the podcast. “I decided to move closer to home where I could get some assistance.”
After walking on to the team and sitting out 2011, he intercepted 13 passes and broke up 30 in two seasons with Lindenwood. He earned All-American and first-team All-MIAA honors in both 2012 and 2013, and last year he won an award recognizing him as the best small-school defensive player in the country.
Desir led the MIAA in passes defended per game in 2013 despite the fact that teams threw away from him the vast majority of the time. He is the MIAA’s all-time leader in passes broken up with 52 and is No. 2 in career interceptions with 25.
But Desir wasn’t running on much sleep when he did any of that. He said he paid his way through school at Lindenwood by working “all types of odd jobs” when he wasn’t in class, studying or playing football.
“For me, my days started at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Desir said on the podcast. “They ended between 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night.”
He said he cleaned up shell casings at shooting ranges. He cleaned up the sides of highways. He painted. He picked up trash, restored houses — or cleaned them.
“There was no sleep,” said Desir, who was invited to the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl alongside prospects from larger schools. “My days were all scheduled down to a T.
“I didn’t have any extra time to go out with my friends. I had to do homework when I had time — whether it was an hour, hour-and-a-half, I had to do that, because I knew I had to get up six hours later to get to work.”
The routine was exhausting, but it delivered its rewards. Desir was on the MIAA Academic Honor Roll in 2012 and 2013, and he said he’s more than prepared to mentally thrive with whichever team might draft him.
“Because of what I went through and having to go through that hectic schedule, I was able to learn how to handle the stress and pressures that came with everything and figured out what worked and what didn’t work,” said Desir, who’s hoping to become Lindenwood’s first-ever NFL draft pick. “So I think it’d be an easy transition with going into the NFL with meetings, games and all that.”