By Mark Simon
The allure of playing for a national power pulled sophomore wide receiver Pierre Garcon to Mount Union, though it was a long way from home in West Palm Beach and he was leaving a school where he had been a superstar player.
Mount Union’s football program gets occasional interest from kids across the country who have seen the program play in the Stagg Bowl on ESPN and say they want to come to the school.
Garcon was one, having contacted the school last spring expressing an interest in transferring from Norwich, where he put up big numbers in his freshman season (44 catches, 13 touchdowns, 23.1 yards per catch) as a first-team All-Empire 8 selection in helping the Cadets pull out a host of last-second victories and earn an ECAC postseason game. But he decided he wanted to leave Norwich and the place he most wanted to go was Mount Union. So Garcon followed the appropriate channels and requested the necessary paperwork, no different from others who follow the same path.
Usually the contact ends there, however, as those who apply have second thoughts once the reality of the situation sets in.
“Seeing it, saying it, and making it happen are totally different things,” said Purple Raiders wide receivers coach and former standout receiver Jason Candle, who got the initial call from Garcon, was quite impressed by what he saw on the highlight tape, but didn’t necessarily expect Garcon to arrive.
Garcon followed through though, getting accepted to the school and though he didn’t venture to Ohio all summer, he was on campus on move-in day, saying goodbye to his family, ready to try something new.
Garcon has proven to be rather soft-spoken, though he did say he feels like he’s playing for the best team in the country. His play has done most of the talking.
“I feel like I can do a lot of different things,” Garcon said.
In three games at Mount Union, which has made the switch to a spread offense this season, Garcon is second on the team with 19 catches, has caught four touchdown passes, and averaged 16.3 yards per catch. Scott Casto is the Purple Raiders’ leading receiver and the two have formed a dynamic duo. Casto has 22 catches, three touchdowns and is averaging better than 17 yards per reception. Garcon is also averaging 35.6 yards per kick return, having brought one back for a touchdown as well. The Purple Raiders, not surprisingly, are 3-0.
Garcon’s combination of size and speed are hard to match. At Norwich he could outrace members of opposing secondaries and use his 6-1, 200-pound frame to absorb contact as he reached for long passes. Thus far, he’s been able to make the adjustment to Mount Union’s opponents without missing a beat.
“Things have been going great so far,” Garcon said. “It’s been a process of adapting to things — the new plays, the game situations, all our signals.”
Garcon had aspirations of going to Syracuse or elsewhere in Division I, but didn’t fare well enough on his SATs to make that happen. He ended up at Norwich after the school’s coaching staff talked to him at a Florida-based recruiting fair. Garcon didn’t specify his reasons for transferring (“I saw Mount Union on TV. It was their history”), though he did briefly consider trying to go Division I, but decided not to since he would have had to sit out a season.
Mount Union historically hasn’t had a lot of transfers. One of their most notable recent transfers, prior to Garcon, was Chris Kern, a former star in the secondary, who transferred from Division II St. Cloud State and later played for the Detroit Lions. Jim Ballard transferred in from Wilmington after his freshman season and helped lead the Purple Raiders to their first national championship. Florida is becoming a base of talent for the school, though Candle noted that’s mainly been through coaches with Ohio-based ties. Eight players on Mount Union’s roster come from Florida, though Garcon is the one who has made the biggest impact.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and a skilled kid,” Candle said. “He’s getting better every day and becoming a fit for what we want to do. He’s a guy who the defense really has to account for. He’s a vertical threat. He can beat you down the field with his speed. He makes things easier for a lot of people because he gives you a chance for a huge play every time he gets his hands on the ball. It’s impressed me how quickly he’s fit in with this group of guys. He’s a quiet, humble kid. If I tell him to be here at 9 a.m. to watch film, he’s here at 8:55.
“We’re still getting to know each other, but he’s the kind of kid who will do anything you ask him.”