BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — During Brandon Shelby's five years as a player at the University of Oklahoma from 2000 to 2004, he was surrounded by several teammates who would eventually play in the NFL. There was talent all over the field, especially in the secondary.
It took Shelby a while to get on the field as he worked hard and waited his turn. He finally became a starter, and won conference titles and played in two national championship games.
It was a long, wonderful journey with a lot of ups and downs. His patience was tested often, but when his time came, he made the most of it.
Shelby is the cornerbacks coach at Indiana, and he's the elder statesman on the coaching staff in his 11th year with the Hoosiers. The old player in him makes him a better coach, because that ''been there, done that'' attitude comes into play often.
These are different times, though, where instant gratification is dominant and attention spans are short. Waiting to play like he did is much harder now.
That's why Shelby has so much respect for Indiana's Noah Pierre. He's in his fourth year at Indiana after being recruiting out of South Florida, and he's just now hitting the field on a regular basis. With injuries to starters Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor decimating Shelby's cornerbacks room, Pierre was moved over to safety and he stepped right in.
Last week against Michigan State, he had a team-high nine tackles and his first career interception.
All that patience paid off, and no one appreciated it more than Shelby.
Yep, been there, done that.
“He is something you don’t get to see very often in this day and age,” Shelby said. “Everybody wants what they want now. They want immediate gratification. A lot of it is not our young folks’ fault. It’s our coaches, our teachers, our parents, that if you don’t get what you want right now, because you deserve it right now, then you quit. The transfer portal has allowed young men to do that.
“But when you look at Noah, he describes a guy who has fought through adversity. He’s been like a switchblade (knife), a jack of all trades. I was excited for him in that Penn State game because he finally got a chance to shine, finally to show off his ability, to show his grandmother and his folks down in Miami could see him on national TV that he can play. The success is sweeter when you have to wait for it. Went to the valley so you can appreciate the mountaintops. I'm glad to see it happen for him. If you just hold on a little bit longer, you can have that success.''
Pierre, a Hialeah, Fla., native played at Champagnat Catholic in South Florida, and played with a lot of Division I players. Played against a lot of them, too. He was a bit undersized in high school, but Shelby loved how physical he was and the fearless attitude he played with.
He also liked that he was a smart hard-working kid that could adapt well to college football and put in the work, even if it might take a few years to pay off. Shelby was sold on him, and he had to sell Indiana coach Tom Allen that he was worth going after. He was considered more of a mid-major recruit, but Shelby and other saw more.
“He is just a tough, hard-nosed kid that we loved when we saw him out of high school,'' Allen said. "I just thought he was a competitive guy, loved his heart, loved his passion, loved the way he played the game. Even during his time here, that’s proven to be true.
“It was just more of a matter of making the decision if we were going to go in or not. We loved a lot of things about him. I knew he was going to have an amazing attitude, tough, grit, fight, competitive spirit,” Allen said. “It was one of those gut calls on my part. Our secondary coaches wanted him and liked him. I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’”
Pierre has always appreciated Indiana's faith in him, and he's really enjoying the chance to reward them with quality play. A lot of kids jump into the transfer portal if they aren't starting. That was never an option for Pierre, who says he's a Hoosier through and through.
“Indiana chose me and I chose them too,” Pierre said. “Leaving never really crossed my mind. I always wanted to make a point here and prove that I can be that player here.”
He's proven that the past few weeks with Mullen out and Taylor severely limited. Michigan State picked on him in a big way, but he kept answering the call and his interception late kept Indiana in the game. The same thing happened with Josh Sanguinetti at safety. He's another South Florida kid who waited three years for his turn. He's filled in admirably when Devon Matthews went down, and he had his first career interception last week, too.
They learn, the hard way. Pierre kept answering every challenge last week, too.
“When people get some catches on you, it’s human nature: You kind of look within a little bit,” Shelby said. “He stayed the course, and he gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
Pierre has played several positions in Indiana's secondary, and he's mostly been at safety. But he has cornerback skills too, first proving that in high school, and when depth became an issue, he simply slid over to corner without hesitation.
"Because he’s so smart, we were able to move him around and plug him in different positions," Indiana safeties coach Jason Jones said. “And every time we’ve asked him to move, it’s just, ‘Yessir.’ He’s embraced it.
He’ll come into the film room, dig in, watch tape, study, learn whatever he needs to know about that position. He’s a perfect example of the type of young man who’s willing to do whatever they need to for the team.
Pierre is the true definition of the LEO motto that Allen preaches.
“It just speaks to his commitment to who we are and his belief in our program and him wanting to be here, wanting to graduate from here, wanting to get a degree from here and being able to finish what he started,” Allen said of Pierre. “I respect that so much.”
He's not alone in the respect department, that's for sure. Shelby says he talks often wit the guys in his cornerbacks room, especially the young guys who haven't become starters yet.
"What you do is you just give them examples of people who were patient and how it paid off for them,'' Shelby said. "Then you give examples of people who quit and it didn't work out. When we recruited him, we knew he was a tough guy. He's a guy that worked hard at a school where he was undersized with a lot of guys who go Division I. He was a smaller guy, and he had to work hard and fight for what he wanted.
"I'm really glad he stuck around. He really is a great kid. You have all these outside influences pulling at you back home or on social media. We're all on our phones, and he's no different. I'm just glad he stayed, and he's built confidence in us. I know he can out there and help us out in a game. I love that.
There's still so much more to his story, too, Shelby said. And there might be more chapters added in Saturday night's game against Ohio State, a team that might just have the best receiving corps in the country.
“He’s got so much more to write,” he said.
Watch our Noah Pierre and Josh Sanguinetti video story
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