The father of two, the first born when he was in the 11th grade, Pierre Desir worked for a temp agency, picked up trash along the highway and did other menial jobs — all for family.
Saturday night, Cleveland used the 127th pick in the NFL draft to select the 23-year-old who was born in Haiti, moved to the U.S. when he was 4, and played defensive back for two Division II schools.
There are no guarantees, but the 127th pick in the 2013 draft was defensive end Malliciah Goodman of Clemson. Atlanta signed him to a four-year, $2.56 million contract including a signing bonus of $397,088. The contract called for $405,000 the first year and $495,000 the second year.
Hopefully, Desir gets as much or more.
The feel-good story of the draft, Desir has an Arkansas connection. In February, he was in Little Rock to receive the inaugural Cliff Harris Award presented to the nation’s top small college defensive player. Ouachita Baptist University was the only school to offer a scholarship to Harris, who wound up being a six-time Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys.
Former Arkansas linebacker David Bazzel, who came up with the idea for the award, was impressed by Desir, his wife, and Desir’s parents.
“His parents were super humble …,” Bazzel said. “They don’t speak English very well, but were so humbled and gracious … I bet they thanked us 20 times for the whole experience.”
Details of Desir’s struggles and devotion to his children are documented in a variety of published reports, but there was a low point in 2011 that makes it easy to root for him.
That year, Desir left Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., and enrolled at Lindenwood in St. Charles, Mo., because he thought the move was best for his wife and two daughters. Lindenwood coach Patrick Ross sent a release form to Washburn, but the Ichabods’ coach refused to sign.
Because of the circumstances, Desir could practice with Lindenwood but he could not be given a scholarship. He took out student loans, enrolled for the fall semester and signed up with a temp agency in St. Charles. Each day at 6 a.m., he showed up at the office, hoping for an assignment. His first was to help clean up an old school in St. Louis.
“The bathrooms in particular were disgusting,” Desir told Jeff Pearlman in an in-depth article written for BleacherReport.com. “There was crap everywhere. Not just on the toilets. On the walls, on the sinks. We had to wear masks and I was scrubbing the crap off the walls. At the end of the day, they gave me a paycheck for $40.”
Even worse was working the basement of an apartment complex where Desir told Pearlman there was “human feces everywhere.”
But he hung in for the $40 and his family.
Although he played Division II football — in Arkansas, Division II football schools include Arkansas Tech, Arkansas-Monticello, Ouachita, Henderson State University and others — he always had Division I skills. Big-name schools could not offer a scholarship because he never made the minimum required score of 19 on the ACT. With refreshing honesty, Desir told Pearlman he took the test three times and made 17 each time. “I even had a tutor,” he said. “It’s kind of humiliating.”
At 6-foot-1, 198, he can match up with taller receivers and he did well against Division I players at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
Although Desir’s story should resonate with Cleveland fans, other draft picks will consume the spotlight. Smack in the glare is quarterback Johnny Manziel, but the Browns also took Justin Gilbert in the first round and he is expected to start at cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden. Next year, Haden will be an unrestricted free agent, which could open up a spot for Desir.
Being a back-up in the NFL beats his other jobs.