Ashley “Smoke” Pierre has watched Nasir Clerk grow from a young boy into a man worthy of multiple scholarship offers to play major college football.
East Carolina became one of those schools extending a grant to Clerk back in January. Following an unofficial visit with his parents to Greenville late last month, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound cornerback became the first member off the Pirates’ recruiting Class of 2020 when he announced his verbal commitment Sunday via a Twitter post.
Pierre, a former college linebacker at Rhode Island, is the head coach at Irvington High School in New Jersey. He grew up in Irvington alongside Clerk’s father, Mike, which afforded him a close-up view of Nasir’s development.
“I’ve kind of been watching him grow up and help raise him,” Pierre said. “His father and I grew up in the same area and became close friends years ago. His father played (college) football at Wagner, so football is in his DNA.”
But it wasn’t until the 2018 season that Pierre actually had the chance to coach Clerk.
Clerk spent his first two varsity seasons playing quarterback and defensive back at Morris Catholic High in Denville, about 22 miles from the Irvington campus. He appeared in eight varsity games as a freshman in 2016, recording 155 yards receiving, 23 tackles, three tackles for loss and three interceptions.
Because of his speed, the Crusaders used Clerk in a variety of capacities as a sophomore. Working at both quarterback and receiver on offense, he accumulated 123 yards passing, 233 rushing and 157 receiving while accounting for six touchdowns. Defensively, Clerk made 20 tackles, two tackles for loss and two interceptions.
A desire for greater exposure to college recruiters prompted Clerk to transfer for his junior season to Irvington, which had has been a hotbed for college football talent in recent years. The school had six seniors sign to play collegiately last February, including two with Football Bowl Subdivision programs. The previous senior class featured five Division I signees, highlighted by Lance Turay (North Carolina) and Jasaiah Provillon (North Carolina State).
“It was just one of those things where he felt like he needed another school,” Pierre said of Clerk’s move to Irvington. “He wanted to play against bigger competition, with a bigger program and a bigger atmosphere. It was also him coming home to family.”
Clerk’s decision paid off. After a junior season at Irvington in which he made 37 tackles and four interceptions, he was named to the All-Super Football Conference first-team defense for the Freedom White Division as selected by the league coaches. The performance sparked a streak of scholarship offers from schools such as Buffalo, Cincinnati, Northern Illinois and Massachusetts among others.
East Carolina’s outside receivers coach Drew Dudzic had already established a relationship with Pierre while working with Mike Houston’s staff at James Madison.
“My relationship with Coach Drew was pretty tight prior to those guys going to East Carolina,” Pierre said. “Once they got to East Carolina, they came here recruiting and identified Nasir as a prospect. That’s kind of how the relationship started.
“Nasir stayed in contact with coach Drew and the defensive backs coach, coach (Brandon) Lynch, on a weekly basis. He went down there last weekend with his family and they fell in love with the place. East Carolina got a great player.”
Although Clerk has worked as a wide receiver as well at Irvington, the Pirates have recruited him as a cornerback. Pierre said Clerk is at his best playing cornerback when matched up against the opponent’s top receiver.
“When we went up against the top team in the state last season, Bergen Catholic, our game plan was for him to take away their No. 1 receiver,” Pierre said. “Nasir held him to no catches. That’s something not on the stat sheet, but it’s recognized by people in the know. But that’s the type of stuff you get from Nasir Clerk.”
Pierre is expecting a big senior season from Clerk and believes the Pirates will eventually have a player with all-conference skills on their roster.
“Even if he goes in and redshirts, that doesn’t bother me,” Pierre said. “But the one thing for sure my guys do when they reach that level is when their time comes they become impact players. He is going to be an all-conference player at East Carolina, I’m just not sure when that will happen.”
Cornerback is believed to be one of ECU’s focus in the Class of 2020, so the commitment from Clerk is a great start to filling as many as three to four spots needed at those positions.