Pierce asks for privacy about his leave from the team

Updated: August 13, 2003, 3:24 AM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas fullback Mark Pierce said that he needed more time to spend with his family during a leave of absence he took in July, following the December death of his father.

After thanking his coach and teammates for their understanding, Pierce asked for privacy in his personal life as the Razorbacks begin practicing for the 2003 season.

Pierce was given a personal leave of absence from the team in mid-July and at that time coach Houston Nutt didn't know if the junior would be back for the season.

But Pierce, who led Arkansas with eight touchdowns last year, returned to campus late Sunday night and he practiced with the first team on Monday during the team's first workout.

"First, I'd like to start by saying how wonderful is to be back with the team," Pierce said Tuesday in a prepared statement during Arkansas' media day. "Not a day went by that the players, coaches and fans weren't on my mind."

Rick Pierce, Pierce's father, died last year following Arkansas' victory over LSU. Neither Nutt nor anyone else with the team had commented on Pierce's absence, only to say he left for personal reasons.

Mark Pierce said he hadn't been able to deal with his father's death and be around his family since it happened. The fullback attended his father's funeral and then flew to Atlanta to play in Arkansas' loss to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

"I haven't had much of an opportunity to spend with my family," Pierce said. "My mom recently had surgery and was in bed rest for about two weeks. I really felt like I needed to go home for a support factor and to be with her.

"Coach Nutt cares enough about his players that he granted me the opportunity to go home as long as I needed. It's a special thing to me."

Nutt said he didn't know that Pierce would be back until he arrived late Sunday. He said the coaching staff and Pierce's teammates would continue to help Pierce.

"A guy like Mark went through some hard times," Nutt said. "I think with the help of his teammates and the people around him, he's knows he's got great support right here."

Pierce ended his prepared statement by asking media members to respect his privacy.

"I would really prefer not to be bothered by these issues or have them come up," said Pierce, who rushed for 204 yards and caught 10 passes last year. "I would really like not to talk about them any further. I'll be happy to talk about anything else as long as they don't involve my personal issues."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index