Some would call it cocky. Others would simply call it bold.
But for Navarre coach Jay Walls, it was a beautiful start to a relationship with his star running back.
“Pretty much, I called it during school,” Warren said. “I knew the play I’d be called on, and I told him I’d score.”
For Walls, it was a spirited first impression for a running back that hadn’t even earned the starting job yet. In fact, Walls, who was hired in January to infuse life into a program coming off a 5-5 program and still in search of a region title, didn’t even give too much credence to the “called shot.”
“I wasn’t so sure about Jay until we went through spring and he played in the spring game,” Walls said.
Remembering it as around a 20-yard carry, the senior made good on his promise and took his first carry to the house.
“First play against Escambia , he was good on his word and scored a touchdown,” Walls said. “After that I felt we had a pretty good shot of being able to run football.”
While a star wasn’t yet born with that run, the play foreshadowed a coming-out party for the senior back.
Displaying both the 4.4 40 speed and the bruising, downhill style that lent for breaking tackles and barreling over linebackers, Warren averaged 7.8 yards per carry while racking up 1,832 yards and 19 scores in only 12 games.
To wit: Leading the Raiders to perfect 5-0 mark in District 2-6A play en route to the program’s second district title, Warren rushed for 154 yards in a 21-17 victory over Choctaw, 203 yards and pair of scores in a 35-28 win over Niceville, and 207 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-28 win over Fort Walton Beach.
But it was the playoffs where he shined most.
In the region quarterfinal against Pace, the senior rushed for a career-high 248 yards to go along with three scores to lift the Raiders to a 30-10 win.
Two games later, Warren racked up 132 yards of offense and two scores in a 28-21 win over Columbia , leading the program its first region championship.
While in a losing effort against Gainesville in the state semifinal, Warren would cap off a stellar postseason with 196 yards and three scores.
“I had to turn it up a notch,” Warren said. “The competition gets better in the playoffs and everyone’s good. Every time we were getting dressed on Friday, my teammates would come to me and I’d tell them that it was time to turn it up.
“I never really got that experience before being my first year starting at running back, so I just relished it.”
The playoff numbers, mixed with the standout regular season and leadership, were more than enough to make Warren the Daily News Big School Player of the Year.
“It’s a great feeling,” Warren said. “It means a lot, but I wouldn’t be here without my teammates.
Ain’t that the truth.
In a spread offense featuring a versatile quarterback in Andrew Rieves. a strong receiving corps in Clemson commitment Jordan Leggett, Gatlin Casey and Mikul Smith and backfield mates in Johnny Robinson-Pettus and Nick Benton, opponents couldn’t just stack the box to contain Warren .
“I think that was a big part of Warren ’s success, the spread attack,” Walls said. “There were a lot of different guys we could get the ball to, certainly a lot of guys the defense had to focus on. That’s the theory of employing the spread attack, and we executed it well.”
And at the forefront was Warren, who’s now seeing the fruits of his labor with several colleges courting his services. Included in the mix are Clemson University , the University of South Carolina , the University of Oregon , Appalachian State University and Peru State College in Nebraska .
“All the hard work is paying off,” Warren said. “Now it’s just a waiting game.”
ALL-AREA FOOTBALL BIG SCHOOL
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jay Warren, Navarre
COACH OF THE YEAR: Jay Walls, Navarre
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jay Warren, Navarre
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Denzel Ware, Crestview
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Andrew Mitchell, Niceville
QB Blake James, Fort Walton Beach
RB Micah Reed, Crestview
WR Jordan Leggett, Navarre
WR Marquese Davenport, Fort Walton Beach
WR Tyre McCants, Niceville
TE Austin Campbell, Niceville
OL Nicholas Haynes, Niceville
OL Tyler Schmitt, Navarre
OL Drayton Taylor, Navarre
OL Jonathan Longman, Crestview
OL Carter Fletcher, Niceville
ATH Johnny Robinson-Pettus, Navarre
DE Denzel Ware, Crestview
DT Christian Gill, Navarre
DT Jonathan Shaw, Navarre
DE Eric Brelia, Choctaw
LB Zach Cresse, Fort Walton Beach
LB Jessie Holmes, Navarre
LB Ellis Warren, Fort Walton Beach
LB Dakota Dean, Crestview
DB Nick Benton, Navarre
DB Tyler Henderson, Crestview
DB Denzel Applewhite, Niceville
DB Darryl Johnson, Choctaw
K Andrew Mitchell, Niceville
P Zach Theriault, Choctaw
QB Andrew Rieves, Navarre
RB Tayjon Culley, Niceville
RB John Hicks, Choctaw
WR Gatlin Casey, Navarre
WR Devin Vazquez, Niceville
WR Chris Bauduin, FWB
TE Christian Gill, Navarre
OL Marvin Darby, Navarre
OL Chris Hunt, Fort Walton Beach
OL Kyle Knight, Niceville
OL Alex Tillman, Crestview
OL Alton Plott, Choctaw
DE James Brown, Fort Walton Beach
DT Nick Quinn, Fort Walton Beach
DT Tyler Santjer, Choctaw
DE Zach Theriault, Choctaw
LB Mason Mikul, Navarre
LB Demarius Bethune, Crestview
LB Devin Colonel, Navarre
LB Thomas Forte, Choctaw
DB John Marvin, Fort Walton Beach
DB Chase Whitehead, Choctaw
DB Elijah Appel, Navarre
DB Brandon Kucera, Niceville
K Dominik Jordan, Choctaw
P Jordan Leggett, Navarre
AP Jaylynn Robinson, Crestview
Navarre: Kody Kelley, DB; Monte Thompson, LB; Boston Morgan, DT
Niceville: Barrett Perry, LB; Carter Herman, LB; Shi Kim Coward, RB
Choctawhatchee: Gaston Rackard, WR; Garrison Floyd, QB
Fort Walton Beach: Allen Anderson, RB; Brandon Thomas, DB
Crestview: Kyle Koontz, LB; Austin Smith, K