In an age of specialization and year-round competition in youth sports, triple discipline athletes are becoming hard to come by, especially at the top of their game.
Isaiah Pierce of Spring Lake High School rose to the top of three teams over the 2016-17 school year. He kicked things off leading the Lakers in rushing and receiving on the football field and earning first team All-Conference honors in the O-K Blue for his big play tendencies. On the hardwood, Pierce used his speed to complete a devastating backcourt attack opposite Cameron Ball, leading the Lakers to a state quarterfinals appearance. Finally, Pierce lost the ball and took his speed to the next level, sprinting to All-Conference honors and an appearance at the Division 2 track and field state finals.
A constant through all of Pierce’s endeavors this season was his humility. All three of his varsity coaches made sure to praise his quiet nature. Paired with a killer instinct and undeniable will to win, Pierce was a coach’s dream, no matter what the playing surface.
Spring Lake football’s first-year head coach Dan Start couldn’t have asked for a better leader of the backfield in Pierce. Developing over his senior year into a guaranteed highlight player.
“He was the big play, home run guy,” Start said. “He made a lot of big plays for us. You look at our offense and we were really ground and pound, he was the guy that made defenses notice.”
Pierce finished with a team-high 737 rushing yards on 78 carries, coming out to a 9.4 average per carry, emphasizing his big play prowess. All those extended carries added up to eight touchdowns on the season without a single fumble.
“He is a real burner,” Start said. “When he got into the open field there was no catching him, and he was very slippery. He was very good at making quick cuts and getting north – south in a hurry.”
Pierce also got it done downfield, bringing in a team-high 12 receptions on the season for a total of 118 receiving yards and one touchdown. An enormous skill set allowed him to be a threat wherever he lined up, and a humble demeanor saved him from being a ball hog.
“He led by example, he really didn’t say much,” Start said of his quiet senior leader. “You could tell the way he worked at practice and busted his butt all the time, that kids watched and tried to follow after him.
“He is a really quiet kid, but once I got to know him, he became one of my favorite kids in the entire school.
“If I had 30 of him, we would be state champions.”
After tearing up the football field for a season, Pierce shed his shoulder pads and hit the hardwood, teamed up once again with his quarterback Cam Ball as a dynamic pair of guards. Pierce took his typical “speak softly but dominate loudly” mantra to Spring Lake basketball’s first crack at the O-K Blue.
In the superstar by committee approach that the Lakers took on, no player averaged more than 10 points per game for the season. The bulk of the starting lineup, including Isaiah, was locked in the 7-10 point range. Pierce used his speed and cerebral nature to shine on the opposite end of the floor, filling the role of lockdown 1-on-1 defender.
“Isaiah Pierce guarded some really good point guards in the O-K Blue,” Spring Lake head coach Bill Core said of his lead defender. “Nobody does it by themselves, it has to be team defense, but when we start with Isaiah on them, I like our chances.”
Pierces defense, iso ability and knack for breaking presses were instrumental in the Lakers’ run to the quarterfinals, tying their longest playoff trip ever.
On the way, Spring Lake pulled off upset wins over Hudsonville Unity Christian and Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the regional tournament thanks to crunch time heroics from Pierce.
In the regional semifinal against Unity Christian, the Lakers held a slim one-point lead over the Crusaders in the closing minutes before Pierce put all his skills to work. Swiping a steal on the defensive end, the speedy guard went coast-to-coast, nailed a nasty Eurostep, drew a foul, got the bucket and netted the free throw. The Lakers never looked back.
The clutch free throw marked a milestone for Pierce, who struggled from the line over the course of the season, putting his tireless work ethic in display on the playoff stage.
“No one stays later after practice than Isaiah to work on free throws. At some point you kind of say to yourself, ‘this kid deserves to knock them down.’”
Apparently sick of playing defense, Pierce hit the track with a vengeance this spring, eager to score points in his signature races, the 200- and 400-meter dashes. The senior stud carried a gold standard from the season opener through the state meet, picking up wins at every level.
“He is a competitor. He is a pretty laid back guy in his life but I tell ya, he hates to lose,” Spring Lake boys track coach John Coughenour said of his senior All-Star. “That’s why we labeled him ‘the chaser’ — if he gets behind he will die to try and beat that guy in front of him.”
Pierce stayed true to himself in his senior season, taking home 12 individual wins in the regular season alone; eight in the 200 and four in the 400. As the postseason began with the O-K Blue Conference championship, he was ready for more, picking up three O-K Blue gold medals.
After a lackluster race in the preliminary round of the 200, “the chaser” dropped three quarters of a second from his prelim time (23.50 to 22.75) to jump from the fourth seed to conference champion.
His title in the 400 came with less drama as he sprinted a one off 50.60 to claim the title. Finally, Peirce served as the anchor leg of the Lakers conference champion one-mile relay. The team of Chris Warner, Andrew Sellon, Parker Vetula and Pierce raced to a season-best time of 3:32.30 at the O-K Blue meet, taking first place.
Following his all-gold-everything performance at the conference meet, Pierce still needed a top-tier finish at the regional to make it back to the state meet. He got it done with ease, taking silver medals in both the 200 and 400 to earn a lane at the big dance.
While championships and state qualifications are nice, the 50-second barrier was on Pierce’s mind after the regional. An appearance at the West Michigan All-Star meet would cure all, as Pierce shattered the barrier, clocking in at his standing PR of 49.63 to claim yet another 400 dash victory.
At the state meet, Pierce was less than thrilled with his performance, despite earning two All-State awards for his fifth and sixth place finishes in the 200 and 400, respectively.
“He really hates to lose,” Coughenour said. “Fifth and sixth in the state is nothing to hang your head about.”
Pierce finished off his high school track career with a full slate of fresh personal records, crossing the finish line with final times of 11.38 seconds in the 100-meter dash, 22.58 in the 200 dash and 49.63 in the 400.
“He is the kind of runner a coach is lucky to have once in a career,” Coughenour said.