Curiosity eventually got the best of him, and East coach Brandon Matich finally asked Jaylen Warren what he was doing.
On a random practice day during the 4A playoffs, Matich had walked by East’s film room a half a dozen times over a span of 30 to 40 minutes, and every time he glanced in he saw his running back diligently taking notes.
When Matich asked, Warren told him he was watching the tendencies of the defenders he would be facing that upcoming Friday night.
“He told me, ‘I’m watching to see how they react to when the ball’s snapped, and how the linebacker’s coming downhill so I know where I need to make cuts, and I know how they tackle and where they place their heads when they go to tackle,’” recalls Matich of that brief interaction.
That high football IQ, a passion to better himself every day — not to mention running behind a ridiculously dominant offensive line — paved the way for Warren to rewrite the state record books in 2016, and in the process take home Deseret News’ Mr. Football honors in the 20th anniversary of the award.
In leading East to its second consecutive 4A championship, Warren became the first running back in the 120-plus year history of Utah high school football to rush for over 3,000 yards in a single season, finishing with 3,099 yards. He shattered the previous recorded of 2,561 yards by Beaver’s Kelly Smith that had stood since 1979.
He rushed for over 200 yards in 12 of 14 games, and in the only two games he didn’t eclipse 200 yards he rushed for 186 and 188 yards, respectively.
The 3,099 he etched into the record books may never be broken.
He also tied the state record for rushing touchdowns in the season with 38, including 16 in the four playoff victories.
When asked to put into words what it means to rush for over 3,000 yards, the soft-spoken Warren said, “my O-line comes to mind because they made it all happen.”
“They worked so well together. The offensive line’s get off was off the charts, and he melded well with that O-line because his first three steps were faster than any running back that I’ve ever coached. His first three steps into that hole were unbelievable,” said Matich.
And once he got through the hole, Warren had the power to run through tacklers and then the speed to outrun most defenders to the end zone.
In addition to his yards and touchdown records, he tied the state record for 100-yard rushing games in a season with 14. He ranks fifth all time in career rushing yards with 5,083 yards and is sixth in career rushing touchdowns with 59.
Incredibly, he did all of that while less than 100 percent.
“He pulled his hamstring in Orem in Week 2, and his hamstring was sore all season. We had to baby him every day in practice. We were afraid he was going to tweak it and pull it, and he wasn’t going to be able to go, so we babied him all week, and then on Fridays he would shine. But it was sore every single week,” said Matich.
Warren is the second Mr. Football recipient at East in the past four years, joining Ula Tolutau, who won the award in 2013.
Warren was a freshman at East that season, and watching Tolutau rush for over 2,400 yards that dominant season had a lasting impression on Warren, who believed he was destined to follow in his footsteps.
“I still look up to him, I still think he’s one of the best running backs to be here and that I’ve seen,” said Warren.
Late in his sophomore year, Warren started to get regular playing time, which paved the way for a fantastic junior season in 2015 as he rushed for 1,974 yards and was named the Deseret News 4A MVP.
He could’ve easily got a big head and expected things to come easy his senior season, but that’s never been Warren’s mentality.
“I always want to better myself. I treat everything as a competition, so I try and do more than I did the day before, and I really wanted to do it for these coaches and my teammates, and I wanted to be the better me,” said Warren.
Matich said Warren became an offseason machine after last year.
“He was there every morning at our 6 a.m. workouts, he ran, he did extra sprints and cone drills that made him better. His focus was better and that sometimes comes with being a senior, and finding success his junior year,” said Matich.
The hard work paid immediate dividends in the opening week of the season as he rushed for 267 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries in a Week 1 win against Syracuse.
A couple weeks later in a game at De La Salle, California, Warren rushed for 256 yards in East’s 23-21 victory. De La Salle hasn’t lost since, this weekend it plays for the Open Division state championship in California against St. John Bosco. Both teams are ranked in the MaxPreps Top 25.
Despite the massive yardage totals, the interest from college coaches has been slow. Matich suspects that the offers will increase in January, and wherever Warren ends up he expects great things.
“He is a next level, big time guy, and whoever is lucky enough to get him is going to get a guy that’s loyal, they’re going to get a guy that’s going to be the best possible program and teammate guy you could possibly ask for, and he’s going to be a star and help you win football games,” said Matich.
James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: email@example.com