Former Pro Bowl running backChris Warren Jr. finds some irony that the best performance of his son – Chris Warren III – while a running back at Rockwall happened at Tyler Lee last season “on Earl Campbell’s field.”
Playing with a backup quarterback, Rockwall’s undefeated regular season was in jeopardy in a 61-54 shootout in which Chris Warren III carried his team to victory.
On Earl Campbell Field at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler, Warren III ran for 459 yards and six TDs on 34 carries, including TD runs of 58, 84, 73 and 60 yards.
“Tyler Lee was probably the only team capable of beating us, and we were playing them in Tyler,” Warren III said. “We had a backup quarterback playing, and it seemed like we had very small room for error.
“And I just felt like I had to – not put the team on my back – but do more than I normally would do.
“We were down 35-22 and then we came back right after halftime. That kept us on a roll for staying undefeated.”
Rockwall improved to 9-0 with that win en route to the school’s first-ever undefeated regular season (12-0).
When I asked if his teammates or coaches looked at him any differently after that Tyler Lee game, he said no.
“I hope they wouldn’t,” he said, “because it would mean that they thought I wasn’t playing up to my ability before that game.”
But Warren Jr. said outsiders, such as college recruiters, undoubtedly looked at his son differently after that game.
“That was on Earl Campbell’s field,” Warren Jr. smiled. “And Texas backs are considered differently than from any other state. When you do that on Earl Campbell’s field, it said, ‘You have to look at me differently now.’”
Warren III finished the season with 2,239 yards rushing and 34 TDs (9.4 ypc). Rockwall lost in the playoffs – 43-38 to Houston Westfield in the Class 6A, Division II, Region II semifinals – ending the best season in school history 12-1. The loss hit Warren hard.
“Everyone has adversity,” Chris said. “I tore my ACL my junior year, and that kind of inhibited what I could have done at that time period.
“But it also helped me develop a stronger work ethic. It wasn’t that the game was too easy, but I probably didn’t think enough of the competition. I put the work in during practice and workouts.”
Warren Jr. said he was incredibly proud of the way Chris came back from the knee injury.
“He showed great work ethic,” Warren Jr. said. “He went through some tough days in rehab. He trusted what was being told to him. His mother did an excellent job researching doctors for the surgery. Proud of the way powered through that.”
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
When you ask Chris about life growing up with a father who happened to be a 12-year NFL running back, he’ll immediately say his pops probably didn’t get enough credit playing in the Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders era.
But Chris also takes great pride in reminding people his father came out of Division III Ferrum College in rural Virginia.
“Coming out of a D-III school, there was an idea he wasn’t going to make it in the NFL,” Chris said. “So he just put everything into his college career. He was from a small town in Maryland, and he didn’t really think he was going to go pro. So he just put everything on the field every single week. And he ended up getting drafted.”
From the outside, one might think because Warren’s father is a former Pro Bowl running back that he might have a sense of entitlement. But Chris said his father taught him the exact opposite, because of his college experience.
Chris Warren Jr. started off at the University of Virginia.
But he had a D on his transcript in back-to-back semesters his sophomore year. At UVA, that called for a suspension from school. Rather than sit out a football season, Warren Jr. transferred to Ferrum, a Division III power, for his final two seasons.
“I was eligible by NCAA standards, just not UVA standards,” Warren Jr. told HornsDigest.com. “So I transferred to Division III, where I wouldn’t have to sit out a year and could keep playing football.”
The good news was that Warren Jr. was playing for legendary D-III coach Hank Norton at Ferrum, which had won four D-III national titles. The bad news was Ferrum took buses to all their games – some of them 12 hours one way.
Ferrum didn’t have enough money for every player to have a playbook and they even had to share helmets during games, at times, Warren Jr. said.
“It was a humbling experience to go from Division I where you have everything you need at your fingertips to Ferrum College, where you have the bare minimum,” Warren Jr. said. “But we had good coaches and good players, and that helped make up for it.”
Warren Jr. said Norton was such a taskmaster that running backs never got to carry the ball until they had notched their first pancake block.
“It was block first and run later,” Warren Jr. said. “And I never played in the second half. The only two games we lost the two years I was there were in the semifinals of the Division-III playoffs. We were usually ahead 56-0 at halftime.”
Even with the success at Ferrum, Warren Jr. didn’t think he’d get a Senior Bowl invite, but he did.
“I thought the Senior Bowl would probably be my last highlight in football,” Warren Jr. said. “But then I got invited to the (NFL) combine and did pretty well there, too. And then I got drafted.”
Warren Jr. was a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks and ended up playing 12 years in the league (the last three with the Cowboys, 1998-2000). There were three Pro Bowl trips in Seattle, including 1994, when he ran for a career-high 1,545 yards, and 1995, when he had a career-best 15 rushing TDs.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
“The things I can pass along are never giving up and working hard to reach your goals and not listening to outside noise,” Warren Jr. said. “People who are naysayers or doubt your ability or are jealous of your ability, you can’t listen to that.
“Those are things you can’t control. All he can control is how he plays and how he handles things.”
Warren Jr. said his son has “added something every year to his game.”
“His sophomore season, he didn’t know too much of what he was doing,” Warren Jr. said. “He was going off talent and maybe wasn’t as patient to find the easiest path through the hole.
“But he’s worked at it in camps and kept developing. He had goals he wanted to achieve, and he’s achieved them.
“He likes to complete everything that he finishes. If he sets a goal, he gets it done. If he can carry that over to everything else in his life, he’ll be successful.”
Warren Jr. said he has two favorite memories of his son as a child – one involving football, the other one involving a rocking horse.
One day, Chris and his younger brother Conlin took a rocking horse they had to the top of the stairs and rode it straight down the stairs.
“Chris’ head ended up going through the dry wall at the bottom of the stairs, and he was like, ‘I’m fine.’ He didn’t cry. Right then, I knew he was tough.”
The other memory, Warren Jr. said, was when Chris had his Pop Warner team football picture taken when he was 8. Chris was the only one on the team who was smiling, and a couple of his teammates pointed it out.
“I think Chris thought the other kids were making fun of him for smiling in the picture, and in every football picture he’s ever taken since then, you’ve never seen him smile,” Warren Jr. said. “He’ll probably kill me for telling you that.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
When it came to the recruiting process, Warren Jr.’s advice to his son was “find a school that fits your personality – from the right offense, the right coaches and, of course, the right school.
“I’m very excited about his decision to go to Texas,” Warren Jr. said. “I thought it would be a good fit for him. With the changing of the guard, it’s a new coaching staff. But it’s on an upswing. With this new recruiting class coming in, I think they can make a difference.”
Chris is very excited about the guys enrolling at Texas right now in his recruiting class, most of whom have been texting on a group iChat since signing day.
“We’ve been talking about who gets the most girls and who doesn’t. Who’s the ugliest dude. It’s funny,” Chris said. “But it helped us come together. It’s helped form a mindset to come together and help bring Texas back to being the best in the nation.”
So who’s the funniest guy in the 2015 class?
“Probably Cameron Townsend because he’s the most different from everybody,” Chris said. “He has the most different outlook from everybody. Everyone will go in one direction and he’ll say something no one else has thought of.”
One guy Chris is looking forward to finally playing with is safety DeShon Elliott, who played for the rival of Warren’s Rockwall team at Rockwall-Heath.
“I just remember DeShon being a really vocal, high-energy guy and flying around and making a bunch of plays,” Chris said. “He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.”
Chris said after National Signing Day he reached out to Elliott about working out together to prepare to go to Texas.
“We were always rivals, but I was like, ‘We’re about to be teammates, so let’s move on, turn the page and get ready for the next chapter. It’s been great.”
Every Wednesday and Saturday during the spring, Warren and Elliott worked out together with a trainer with a group of receivers. Warren, who is 6-foot-2, said he weighs 233 pounds right now.
“I work out with receivers to work on my lateral quickness and catching the football,” Warren said. “I haven’t always been the best catcher. But since eighth grade, I’ve worked at it and I have big hands, so I can catch and want to be good at it.”
TAKING IT UP A NOTCH
Warren said it’s been a challenge for him to always maintain intensity in practice, and he knows that has to change at Texas.
“I’m not normally a vocal guy,” Warren said. “In practice I like to joke around, but that’s because I don’t like practice. In practice in high school, I didn’t go hard on every single rep, but I tried my hardest to execute what we were doing.”
This is how Warren describes his running style: “It’s kind of like electricity. I look for the path of least resistance and use all my ability.”
As far as goals at Texas, Warren said:
“I’m going to try my absolute hardest to get playing time. The second goal is get into the two-deep. If none of that works out, I hope I can push Johnathan (Gray) to be a better running back to help the team.”
His father thinks Texas is getting “a fierce competitor and a hard worker.”
“He cares about his teammates and coaches and likes to do things the right way and likes to win,” Warren Jr. said of his son. “He knows he’ll have to earn everything he gets. But he’s always known that.”
His father thinks there were earlier signs that Texas was the place.
“The last picture I took of him after the U.S. Army All-American game (in January), he threw up the Horns,” Warren Jr. said. “That’s when I thought, ‘He’s going to Texas.’”
In a way, Chris will be returning to Earl Campbell’s field – this time in Austin. And the last time that occurred, everything worked out just fine.
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