How a Swedish soccer transplant became Lakewood’s football MVP

Lakewood High sophomore Phillip Pierre has become a valuable commodity to the football team. Pierre, who grew up in Sweden playing soccer, is lending his kicking talents to the gridiron. (RODNEY PAGE | Times)
Lakewood High sophomore Phillip Pierre has become a valuable commodity to the football team. Pierre, who grew up in Sweden playing soccer, is lending his kicking talents to the gridiron. (RODNEY PAGE | Times)
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Lakewood coach Cory Moore needed a kicker. The season was already a game old, so he did what any responsible coach would do. He asked boys soccer coach Brandon Vaughan if there was anybody on his team who could kick.

Moore was told to check out this new kid from Sweden, Phillip Pierre.

"So we're out there on the practice field and we hand him the football and tell him to punt it," Moore said. "He takes a step and bam, the ball goes flying in the air. We're like, 'Yep, that'll do.' "

Turns out, Pierre is a natural. The sophomore is tops in the state in punting with a 47.5-yard average, according to MaxPreps. He is ranked seventh nationally.

He also kicks field goals and has made 10 of 12 this season with a long of 52.

Pierre is a newcomer to Lakewood, but he is not the first in his family to play football at the school. His older brother, Justin, was a defensive lineman for Lakewood and was the backup to current L.A. Rams lineman Dante Fowler.

RELATED: Jefferson shakes up coaching staff, finds playoff spark

But Pierre and his brother have lived different lives. While Justin grew up in St. Petersburg with his father, J.P., Phillip lived in a small village in Sweden outside of Ostersund, a town of just over 40,000. He grew up playing soccer.
Pierre decided he was bored in Sweden and wanted to move in with his dad.

In July, he enrolled at Lakewood. Language wasn't a problem since students in Sweden start learning English in third grade. He was looking forward to playing on the soccer team before his detour into football.

"I've never been involved in football before because where I come from it's not popular at all," said Pierre with a detectable Swedish accent. "They said they needed a kicker so I tried out. They showed me how to do it. I wasn't really that good from the start."

Pierre had only a few days to figure out the sport. He'd never worn football pads or a helmet. And he certainly never had anybody running at him full speed as a he kicked a ball.

"I was nervous," Pierre said. "I felt like I didn't belong there at all. It was so different than what I was used to. Field goals were pretty easy but the punts were the hard part. I had to catch the ball. It felt really unusual to me. I've gotten more used to it."

He has been a huge boost to Lakewood, which is 6-5 and playing Jefferson at home on Friday in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. Pierre has tilted the field with his punts and has given the Spartans a legitimate field goal kicker. And many of his kickoffs land in the end zone.

"I still think the MVP of our team is (Pierre)," Moore said. "Just the way he flips the field for us always helps us out."

But as good as Pierre is, football may not be in his future.

"I don't really enjoy football," Pierre said. "For me, it's always been about soccer. I don't know if I will play next year because I'm playing club soccer."

Region semifinals
All games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Admission is $8
Class 7A
Region 2
No. 3 Plant at No. 2 Viera
Region 3
No. 7 Palmetto at No. 6 Bloomingdale
Class 6A
Region 2
No. 6 Lake Weir at No. 2 Armwood
Class 5A
Region 2
No. 4 Baker County at No. 1 Nature Coast
No. 3 North Marion at No. 2 Zephyrhills
Region 3
No. 6 Immokalee at No. 2 Jesuit
No. 8 Jefferson at No. 4 Lakewood
Class 3A
Region 3
No. 4 Tampa Catholic at No. 1 Clearwater Central Catholic
No. 6 Calvary Christian at No. 2 Berkeley Prep, 7
Class 2A
Region 2
No. 3 Zephyrhills Christian at No. 2 Foundation Academy
Region 3
No. 5 Cambridge Christian at No. 1 Admiral Farragut
No. 3 Carrollwood Day vs. No. 2 Seffner Christian (at Strawberry Crest)

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