Asked what has been the most rewarding aspect of moving up from the junior college ranks and receiving a long-sought scholarship from a Football Bowl Subdivision program, Utah State running back Jaylen Warren’s surprisingly literal response is endearing in its honest simplicity.
“In JUCO, you have to supply for yourself. … Around May, June, and again in August [the past few years], that’s the time I went shopping, when I started looking online for what kind of cleats and gloves I was gonna get,” Warren said. “It’s crazy, ’cause they just give that to you over here.
“It’s like a dream being up here,” he added. “It’s more than I could have asked for.”
But no less than what he’s earned.
Quarterback Jordan Love is the deserved focal point of the USU offense, but that hasn’t stopped Warren from accumulating some gaudy numbers. Just two games into his USU career, the junior (who came in expected to be merely a complementary piece to senior feature back Gerold Bright) has already rushed for 246 yards and three touchdowns — racking up 8.8 yards per carry. He had 141 yards and a score against Wake Forest. He topped the century mark again vs. Stony Brook — on only nine carries.
UTAH STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
When • Sept. 21, 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • CBS Sports Network
What’s made him so good?
Warren is quick to deflect any praise, crediting “all my O-linemen,” and praising Bright for being unselfish in helping him with film study providing helpful suggestions. There’s more to it than that, though. After what it’s taken him to become a part of the Aggies program, Warren approaches every practice, every walk-through, every play of every game as though those gloves and cleats and his very college scholarship could be ripped away from him if he doesn’t succeed.
“I knew it was something I was gonna have to fight for,” Warren said. “Every back here is great, in my eyes. So I’m like, ‘If I get the ball, I gotta make the most of it, ’cause if I don’t, I’m not gonna be in the spot I would like to be in.’”
And after how long it took him to get to that spot, he isn’t about to give it up.
As a senior at East High School in Salt Lake City in 2016, Warren demolished the record books, rushing for a single-season state-record 3,099 yards and a record-tying 38 touchdowns en route to winning The Salt Lake Tribune’s Player of the Year award as the Leopards went 14-0 and won a second consecutive Class 4A state championship.
All five of East’s starting offensive linemen got scholarships to Division I programs. Warren, the guy they were paving the way for, had but a single offer, to Snow College in Ephraim.
East coach Brandon Matich wondered aloud then at the rationale, dismissing each critique: Product of East’s scheme? Beneficiary of an über-talented O-line? “I can’t put [just] anybody back there and have them put up those numbers,” Matich countered. Maybe Warren was simply too short and too heavy for some, being generously listed (in both regards) as 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds then. One legitimate concern was Warren’s academic performance, which Matich conceded was not what it should have been early on, though he argued that neither was it bad enough to have scared off every D-I program.
So Warren went off to Snow, where he continued to produce and to prove that his high school exploits were no ephemeral thing. He topped a thousand yards as a freshman. As a sophomore, he earned NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year honors for amassing 1,435 rushing yards and 15 TDs in just nine games. And just like that, the offers finally came flooding in.
Long before the season was over and all those other programs came calling, though, Warren’s old high school coach put a bug in new-again Utah State coach Gary Andersen’s ear.
“Brandon Matich [was] telling me he thinks the kid is a tremendous player. That holds a lot in my mind,” Andersen said. “When Brandon says that to me, I take a long, hard look at that young man.”
JAYLEN WARREN BY THE NUMBERS
At Wake Forest • 141 yards, 19 carries, 1 TD, 7.4 avg.
Stony Brook • 105 yards, 9 carries, 2 TDs, 11.7 avg.
Meanwhile, Matich’s opinion of Andersen held similar sway for Warren. So much so that when other, perhaps more prestigious options came along, Warren held firm in his commitment: “They were the first ones that believed in me. … [Andersen told] me, ‘We don’t want you, we need you.’ I was like, ‘Daaaaamn.’ It was big.”
Once at USU, Warren had to prove himself again. He got right to work, shedding weight and building endurance for the Aggies’ uptempo offense (he’s listed at 5-8, 215 now), and attempting to fully absorb the playbook. For as self-deprecating as Warren is — he claimed he sometimes has trouble just mastering the steps out of his backfield stance going toward the handoff mesh with Love — his coaches say all they see is someone reaping the rewards of all the work he’s put in.
“The way he practices, the way he went through camp, we see it again on game day,” said running backs coach Stacy Collins. “He plays hard, he practices hard, and it certainly translates.”
Andersen added that the results on the field are simply a reflection of everything that came before.
“I’ve kind of seen the same from him the last couple weeks as I’ve seen from him since he’s been here — just a tireless worker and a very, very good teammate,” he said. “He has high expectations of himself — he has worked extremely hard to reach those goals. … I think he’s grateful to be here.”
That much is not in doubt. Asked what his favorite moment with the team has been thus far, Warren responded more broadly this time.
“Just before this phone call, I’m sitting there staring at my helmet — I see ‘U State’ on my helmet and I’m like, ‘Dang, I really made it here,’” he said. “… My first game, I was like, ‘I’m really putting on a Utah State uniform,’ you know? Every moment — it could be out of the blue, but I’m just so happy to be playing for Utah State.”
JAYLEN WARREN AT A GLANCE
• As a senior at East High, rushed for a state-record 3,099 yards and a record-tying 38 touchdowns.
• Named NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore at Snow College, after amassing 1,435 rushing yards and 15 TDs in just nine games.
• In his first two games with Utah State, he has run for 246 yards and three touchdowns on just 28 attempts (8.8 ypc).