When he’s on the field, Olsen Pierre’s teammates and position coach call him Lucifer.
“Everyone on the D-line has a nickname,” freshman defensive tackle Earl Moore said. “They call me Big Boosie. Dequan Ivery is Pork Chop. Corey King is Headache. Darius Smith is Plug. Shayon Green is Big Country. Anthony Chickillo is Bubba. And Curtis Porter — I’m not sure what his nickname is. Maybe it’s C.P.”
Said Green: “Shayon’s nickname fits him because he has two sides. Outside the game, he’s always smiling, laughing being kind of mischievous. On the field, he’s like a devil. You wouldn’t want to be by him.”
Hurricanes coach Al Golden is all for cool nicknames because it builds camaraderie. But what Golden would like more than that is for somebody — perhaps the 21-year-old, 6-4, 300-pound Pierre — to become “the man” in the middle of his defense.
UM, which ranks 119th out of 120 FBS schools in run defense (249.25 yards per game), has rotated about six or seven players at the defensive tackle position in the hopes of finding the right combination. In the past three weeks, that search has even included starting two freshmen: King (6-1, 295) and Moore (6-1, 300).
On Thursday night against Virginia Tech (4-4), the Hurricanes are hoping to get some time in the rotation for Porter, their fourth-year junior who is coming back from an appendectomy. In the meantime, the search for “the man” — as Golden puts it — continues.
“He’s starting to make a lot of progress,” Golden said of Olsen, who along with fifth-year senior Darius Smith leads the team with seven starts for UM at defensive tackle. “He’s playing with a little more energy, a little more confidence in his hand placement, in his transition to pass rushing.”
Pierre, the first recruit to give Golden a commitment when he took over for Randy Shannon in December 2010, has made 17 tackles, 3.5 for loss and has one forced fumble and two pass breakups in the seven games in which he has played.
He was on the sideline watching last season when Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas rallied his team to victory. On fourth-and-1 at the UM 19-yard line, Thomas faked a handoff and ran right through the middle of UM’s defense for the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to play.
“He ran right through where I would have been,” Pierre said. “The first thing we have to do this time is stop No. 3 [Thomas]. The offense is built around him — QB reads, QB power. We got to get hits on him, get physical with him.”
Being physical in the middle is what the Hurricanes used to be all about. From 1987 to 2007, the Hurricanes had 10 defensive tackles taken in the NFL Draft including eight in the first round: Jerome Brown, Bill Hawkins, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp, Damione Lewis, William Joseph and Vince Wilfork.
But since Kareem Brown (fourth round, 2007) became the last of the drafted Canes defensive tackles, touted recruits — Micanor Regis, Marcus Forston, Jeremy Lewis to name a few — all have failed to live up to expectations.
Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said Pierre sticks to his assignments and should get bigger and stronger.
“He’s an unselfish guy,” Green said of Pierre. “We need more guys like Olsen Pierre.”