Syracuse, N.Y. — Cory Johns picked up his phone midway through the season and called a handful of Power-5 coaches.

Each had expressed interest in Markenzy Pierre, Liberty (Kissimmee, Fla.) High School’s standout running back, before he committed to Western Kentucky in early July. But some in that group, including SU co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Sean Lewis had backed off, believing that Pierre was a firm commit, Johns said.

Lewis was the first to return Johns call. The Orange then offered Pierre on the Wednesday of the bye week and he flipped from WKU three days later.

“Syracuse was the only one who really bit,” Johns said.

Since committing to SU, Pierre has run for a combined 845 yards and 10 touchdowns over Liberty’s final two regular-season games. The returning all-state player from Florida’s second-largest class (7A) has totaled 2,554 yards, 31 touchdowns and nine two-point conversions on 249 carries in 10 games this season. He’s also hauled in 14 passes for an additional 102 yards and one score.

Rated three stars and the No. 104 running back this cycle by 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, Pierre will look to build on those numbers in the Chargers’ final game against Gateway on Thursday.

“This year, I don’t think anyone’s tackled him 1-on-1 all year long,” Johns said. “I don’t think anyone’s gotten close.”

Johns said Pierre’s jump from fantastic high school player to promising collegiate prospect took place during the offseason. Rather than going to work out at a private facility, he trained with his teammates and focus on speed work.

Already equipped with a powerful 5-foot-11, 205 pound frame, Pierre increased his lateral speed noticeably, making him a nightmare of a matchup for high school linebackers in space.

Johns said at this point in his career, Pierre is better than two of his former players who are both the NFL: Karlos Williams (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Mike James (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

“If he has an opportunity to make a guy miss or run him over, he’ll end it real quick,” Johns said. “He’s disrespected some guys this year.”

Pierre fits the exact mold of running back the Orange wants to use on most downs in its hurry-up spread offense. He has the size and strength to handle a heavy dose of ‘Power’ between the tackles and enough speed to get through the second level if space allows.

SU’s current cast of running backs doesn’t include a player with that physique and style. Class of 2016 signee Jo-El Shaw had the potential to fill that role, but wound up at Lackawanna Community College.

Johns echoed Pierre’s previous comments about the SU staff planning to move player(s) from its current running backs group.

“I think they’re looking to move a lot of those running backs to the slot,” Johns said.

Orange head coach Dino Babers has made it clear that he won’t talk about any planned adjustments. Freshman Moe Neal, a dynamic 5-foot-11, 169-pound athlete, seems most likely to fit that bill — especially considering Babers made sure Neal spent some time with the receivers during preseason camp to keep his hands sharp.

For Pierre, Syracuse was the right fit as a Power-5 school that legitimately valued him. The possibility for early playing time exists, though he’s one of three Class of 2017 backs currently pledged to SU, along with Allen Stritzinger and B.J. Daniels. He’s also excited to pursue his interest in broadcasting at the renowned S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Johns said Pierre’s played with added motivation at Liberty, which is overshadowed by perennial power Osceola. Pierre turned down the opportunity to attend Osceola earlier in his career and is set to become Liberty’s first Division-I player since the school opened in 2007.

“He’s played with a chip on his shoulder his entire career,” Johns said.

With Pierre’s gaudy finish to his season, some of the other coaches Johns called have gotten back to him. Some could offer if space open in their school’s recruiting class.

But even if a better option presents itself, Johns believes Pierre will provide Syracuse the same allegiance he showed Liberty.

“You’ve just got to be loyal to the people that were on you to begin with,” Johns said.

Pierre’s commitment, one of 20 in the Orange’s 2017 class, is non-binding until he signs a national letter of intent in February.

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Stephen Bailey covers Syracuse football for The Post-Standard/Syracuse.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He can also be reached anytime via email or phone (315-427-2168).

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