Warren grows into role on Warriors’ defensive line

Sherando's Kyle Warren, left, assists teammate Ben Avery with a tackle during their game with Eastern View on September 18. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Kyle Warren was “thrown into the fire” as a sophomore on Sherando High School’s football team in 2013, Warriors head coach Bill Hall says.

Admittedly, Warren didn’t expect to play much for the Warriors that year, what would be his first full season at the varsity level, before a leg injury to standout defensive end Brogan McPartland in the first game of the season changed his role.

Thrust into a starting spot on Sherando’s defensive line, Warren spent most of the 2013 season adjusting to his new role, a “puppy” on a talent-laden Warriors defense who had all of the physical tools but lacked valuable game experience, Hall says.

Then came the play that Warren credits with jumpstarting his high school football career.

Clinging to a 7-0 lead late in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Group 4A state semifinal game against visiting Salem, the Warriors’ defense was one final stop away from sending Sherando to its fourth state championship appearance. And it was Warren who, on a fourth-and-11 play from Sherando’s 23-yard line, hit Salem quarterback Austin Coulling as he released the football, forcing an incompletion with 1:47 left to play and locking down the Warriors’ win.

“That was like my debut, you know, when I kind of showed who I was,” Warren said following practice Tuesday evening, as the Warriors prepare to host Woodgrove in the second round of the Group 4A West playoffs Friday night.

Riding a surge of “courage and fire” from that one play, Warren has since grown into one of the leaders of a Sherando defense that is limiting opposing offenses to just 195.8 yards per game this season. Voted a team captain prior to the start of the 2015 season – a role Hall says is the highest honor a player can achieve on Sherando’s football team – Warren has paired his leadership with production on the field, tallying 34 total tackles (14 for loss) and six sacks as a defensive end.

Though the 2013 Salem game was Warren’s “debut,” the foundation for his success was laid the year before. Warren was a midseason addition to the varsity program as a freshman in 2012, and he can still remember the repetitive screams coming from his head coach that fall.

“When we’d come to every defensive practice all you’d hear (was) coach Hall, ‘Do your job. Do your job. Do your job.’ And you’re like, ‘Aw man, I’m never doing my job,'” Warren, now a senior, recalled with a laugh.

Those screams continued his sophomore season, only this time Warren also got them from former linebacker Daniel Eppard, whom Hall encouraged to “get on” the young defensive end whenever an opposing offensive lineman was able to get downfield and block one of the Warriors’ linebackers.

“We keep our linebackers clean so they can run and make plays,” Hall said. “And I said (to Eppard) if (an offensive lineman) touches you, you tell (Warren). And I said, ‘Kyle, if he tells you, I’m on ya.'”

What formed is what Hall refers to as a “self-correct system” among the Warriors, one that Warren reaped the benefits of much earlier than most other players on the team.

“That made him grow up – bam – like that,” Hall said. “From this point on, the last two years it’s been refining his technique. And if you’re a connoisseur of good defensive line play, watching him – I mean he is a technician.

“The linebackers really enjoy playing behind him because he keeps you clean, you know what I mean?” added Hall, who coaches Sherando’s defensive ends. “He does all the dirty work so you can make plays. We’re perfectly fine as defensive ends never making a tackle as long as we keep our guys clean so they can make tackles for loss.”

Gone now is the player who would just run up the field on a pass rush off the edge, allowing offensive linemen to easily “get under me,” Warren said. The senior has undergone so much repetition over his varsity career that his reads and techniques have become second nature.

“My main thing is, very rarely do I get stoned at the line of scrimmage when I come off on a pass rush,” said Warren, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds. “I use my speed as an advantage and … I work really hard up field and I drive the quarterback to step up into the pocket. Well, when he steps up into the pocket he feels like he’s comfortable, so I shuck the block and I’m right under him, and that’s usually where I get most of my sacks. And if he doesn’t come out, well then he’s got (senior defensive tackle Ben Avery) right there who’s staring in his face too, who’s also a fantastic defensive player.”

That duo of Warren and Avery – who is listed at 6-foot, 285-pounds and has 43 tackles (21 for loss) and 6 1/2  sacks in 2015 – has served as the anchor for a Sherando defensive front that is allowing only 71 yards rushing per game.

Warren said he and Avery – both three-year defensive starters – have been playing football together since they were kids.

“I love Ben, man,” Warren said. “… We’ve been playing side by side for as long as I can remember, and that’s just chemistry. That’s just us knowing how each other’s gonna play. I wouldn’t wanna play beside anybody else, honestly. He’s my boy.”

Warren and Avery also play alongside each other occasionally on the offensive line, where Warren is a regular starter.

Warren, who also started both ways for the Warriors last season (he was named a second-team all-Conference 21 defensive lineman in 2014), said he focused his offseason workouts on better preparing himself for the beating he would take this season. Hall praised the senior’s durability and his devotion to Sherando’s football team, calling him a “365-day a year commitment guy.”

“Most injuries that have happened to him would probably keep the average person out,” Hall said. “But I mean he just plays through them. His ankles are shot all to heck, he’s got (an) elbow (injury) – he’s got everything wrong with him. But the thing is you always know he’s gonna battle and give you everything he’s got.”

Sherando, which received the fourth seed and a bye in the first round of the 4A West playoffs, will play its first postseason game of 2015 at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 5 Woodgrove (10-1). Warren hopes he and his Sherando teammates will be making a return trip to Lynchburg for another shot at the school’s first state championship.

“I definitely wanna go all the way,” Warren said. “There’s nothing guaranteed after this season for me. There’s a saying that we all have, is let’s get one more week with each other, one more week together. If we all just keep that mentality of wanting to have one more week together, I think we’re gonna be really good.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com