Friday Night Hero: Salisbury's Jalen Warren
By Ronnie Gallagher
SALISBURY - There goes 5-foot-9 Justin Ruffin or 5-foot-9 Max Allen running toward the end zone for another Salisbury score and a guy smaller than either one of them racing alongside, pumping his fist.
Another running back? No, it's Jalen Warren, the Hornets' senior tackle.
"Most of the time, I run down the field with them, cheering them on with, 'Go score. Go score,' " Warren laughed.
Warren's a tackle? At 5-foot-7, 175 pounds? Smaller than the running backs?
It's true. Warren has become one of coach Joe Pinyan's favorite players. Warren will never play offensive line for Alabama - or Catawba, for that matter - but in the wishbone offense, he's perfect. Pinyan wants his guards to be the big boys and his tackles to be the quick linemen.
"We want tackles who can run and get to the next level," Pinyan explained. "We have them blocking a lot of safeties and linebackers."
Warren played his role to perfection in a 45-35 win over Central Davidson last Friday, helping Salisbury improve to 2-0 in the Central Carolina Conference and 5-2 overall. The Hornets ran for 291 yards.
"Jalen probably graded out higher than any lineman all year," Pinyan said. "He was lights out. A bunch of plays broke free and the reason was Jalen was getting out there sustaining his blocks. Jalen had a couple of domination blocks. He was as steady as the running backs and the running backs were steady because of him."
Warren was asked how he succeeds at tackle despite his lack of size.
"I try to tell people it's a mindset," Warren said. "You've got to go out there thinking you're going to beat them off the ball."
It's also a mindset he had to force himself to accept.
"At first, I really wasn't for it," he grinned. "But whatever helps the team."
Offensive line coach David Johnson marvels at his mighty-mite.
"It's quite amazing to me, the way he uses the leverage," Johnson said. "He just gets underneath and keeps his feet moving. The attitude he has is a lineman's mentality. He likes to hit people and likes to get after it. And that's the kind of kid you want on your football team."
Pinyan says Warren is a star at practice as well.
"He is a good, quiet senior leader," Pinyan said. "The other kids watch him work and they work hard because he works hard."
Warren's work ethic against Central was so impressive to the coaches, he was a cinch to be honored this week.
"You might have to hunt and peck for a Friday Night Hero," Pinyan said. "This one jumped off the board."
Unfortunately, Warren will miss Friday's home game against Lexington. He was hit hard in the win over Central and has concussion-like symptoms. So Pinyan is not taking any chances.
Warren, who will be replaced by Walkil Harrison, takes it in stride.
"I just gotta coach up the guy filling in for me," he said.
And that means making sure Harrison gets to the next level, sustains all of his blocks, and, of course, runs alongside Ruffin and Allen as they score more Salisbury touchdowns.