By Mark Jagord, Adrian Assistant SID
The 1980’s was the finest 10-year stretch in football school history as Adrian College posted a .761 winning percentage with a 70-22 record. The winning percentage was among the top 15 Division III schools and was tops in the state of Michigan. The Bulldogs captured the MIAA conference championship four times during that span (’80, ’83, ’88, ’89).
The most memorable years of that decade would have to be ’88 and ’89, the last time Adrian posted back-to-back MIAA conference titles. Those teams combined for 1,000-plus unassisted tackles and 1910 total tackles during that championship run. The ’88 defense ranks first in all-time tackles with 1,000; while the ’89 defense ranks fifth all-time with 910 tackles in Adrian football lore. Leading the team in tackles in the latter championship year was linebacker Joe Piersante (#37 at right) with 103.
Piersante’s football career at Adrian is legendary having been selected to the All-MIAA Team twice, as a first-team selection in ’90, and a second-team selection in ’89. He led the team in tackles during both years he was honored by the league. His ’90 tackle totals of 141 total and 85 unassisted were all-time single season records that have since been topped. By no coincidence, three of the years he played are listed in the school’s all-time top-10 tackle seasons (’88, ’89, ’90).
Piersante left the college gridiron for good in 1991 as Adrian College’s all-time career leader in tackles and with his criminal justice degree pursued a career in law enforcement-following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Just as on the field, Piersante excelled in his new career. After spending several years with the Detroit, Michigan Police department; he became a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and later became one of 12 selected to the Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST).
Piersante went from tackling opponents for his school to tackling terrorism for his country. In 2010, he began the first of three tours. On his last tour, October 30, 2011; Joe was critically injured during an enforcement operation in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Working with International Security and Assistance Forces (ISAF) and Afghan law enforcement partners, the FAST team members had just executed a search warrant and were set to leave the area when they came under heavy Taliban fire. A bullet struck Joe in the head as he covered teammates boarding a helicopter.
After undergoing a series of operations from the enemy round that came within a millimeter or less of being fatal, Piersante is still recovering. His heroism and story is so revered, that former football teammates Ricky Woodall and Pete Mazzoni will host a benefit to honor him on Saturday, October 27, 2012, beginning at 3:00 p.m. at Adrian College’s Merillat Sport & Fitness Center and ending with a conference matchup against Kalamazoo College that begins at 6:00 p.m. Anyone interested in attending in support of Joe is asked to email Adrian College athletic director Mike Duffy at email@example.com.