MOBILE, Alabama -- As a junior in high school, Casey Pierce was the dual-threat quarterback for his Normandy High team in Parma.
Right around the same time, hundreds of miles to the South in Belle Glade, Florida, Clive Walford wasn't even a member of his high school football team.
Six years later, the two converged on Mobile -- Pierce from Kent State, Walford from Miami -- for the 2015 Senior Bowl -- as tight ends.
From a big picture standpoint, Pierce and Walford are relatively new to the position -- especially when compared to quarterbacks who have been throwing passes since they were in the crib -- but both proved to be among the most valuable at a position that continues to evolve in the NFL. They continued their ascent toward a future that seemed unfathomable just a few years ago with respectively strong performances before a bevy of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers at the Senior Bowl.
"It reminded me of AAU basketball, being around a lot of great players," Walford said. "Just tried to show everyone what I can do."
That analogy wasn't just plucked out of thin air. Walford's background was all basketball until his senior year, when he decided he wanted to "open more doors" for himself as he eyed college. At 6-foot-4 and 254 pounds, Walford was an undersized power forward but a perfect fit at tight end, where he promptly starred for a high school team that advanced to a Florida state championship.
Walford received a relatively late offer from Miami, latched onto it and never looked back. Over his final three seasons with the Hurricanes, Walford racked up 103 catches, 1,581 yards and 13 touchdowns in a pro-style offense similar to what he'll see in the NFL. Projected as a likely Day 2 selection, Walford maximized his time in Mobile with a number of big plays on the practice field and landed in a number of draft analyst's lists of top performers.
"Some of the questions earlier in the season were about my run after the catch and finishing blocking," Walford said. "From the film that I put on tape this year, I feel like I accomplished those tasks.
"I'm an all-around tight end."
Pierce did just about everything at Normandy except play tight end.
After playing quarterback and a slew of defensive positions in high school, he ultimately walked on at Kent State and bided his time before he was offered a scholarship entering his third of five years with the program. As a junior, Pierce broke out with 33 catches for 364 yards and five touchdowns. He nearly doubled that production as a senior, finishing with 60 catches for 641 yards and six touchdowns in an 11-game season. The Golden Flashes' penultimate game of the year at Buffalo was snowed out.
"The coaches really put it in my hands my senior year and let me lead the team," said Pierce, who grew up a Browns fan. "When they needed a play, they came to me."
For the past few years, the Browns have called upon Jordan Cameron for their big plays at the tight end position. Cameron, though, is an unrestricted free agent and could leave the Browns with a big hole to fill alongside Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge if he opts to sign elsewhere.
The Browns haven't drafted a tight end since 2012 (Brad Smelley, seventh round) and have used a pick earlier than the fourth round on the position just once (Kellen Winslow, 2004) since 1999.
To land Walford or a player such as Minnesota's Maxx Williams, who is pegged by many as the top tight end in this year's draft class, the trend likely would need to be bucked. A homegrown, under-the-radar product like Pierce likely will be available in the later rounds.
"The reality moving forward is that we're going to drive for competition as every spot," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said in December. "We're going to look to improve every player. It sounds like it's not attainable but I think that goal is to constantly look for players that can improve your roster. Pushing competition at every spot, everybody's got to compete for their job. Nobody gets it handed it to them."
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.