Diminutive Warner suits up one last time|[7/15/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 15, 2005

Larry Warner never really needs an excuse to strap on the pads and play football.

Big playoff game? Meaningless spring practice? They’re one and the same to the former Warren Central running back. Playing in the Bernard Blackwell Classic will give him another reason, but to Warner it might as well be because it’s Friday night.

Warner, a two-time Vicksburg Post Player of the Year, will suit up and represent WC one last time in Mississippi’s all-star game tonight at Madison Central. The game begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

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Unlike some players in the game who feel slighted that they weren’t selected for the more prestigious Mississippi-Alabama all-star game, Warner is excited just to play.

“I’m happy either way it went, whether I got picked for that one or for this one,” Warner said. “It doesn’t bother me. I’m just happy to be playing.”

That’s the same type of attitude Warner displayed throughout his high school career.

A fourth-string junior running back when the 2003 season began, Warner vaulted to the starting job when a series of injuries sidelined those above him on the depth chart. Unless he was hurt or WC’s coaches were keeping him from re-entering a blowout on his own – as they had to do on at least one occasion – Warner never saw the bench again.

He ran for 107 yards in his first two starts, then followed it up with back-to-back 200-yard games against Madison Central and Murrah. He ran for 1,062 yards and nine touchdowns in only eight games as a starter in 2003, then 1,852 yards and 11 TDs in a full season last fall.

He parlayed that success into a scholarship from Southern University, where he’ll start fall drills next month.

“It’s one of those stories about a kid who never says, ‘I can’t’,” WC coach Curtis Brewer said. “He’s a kid who always says give me a chance. He’s excited about what he does.”

And what Warner did in high school, Brewer said, is try harder than anyone else.

Despite his 5-foot, 3-inch, 150-pound frame, Warner developed a reputation as a tough, hard-nosed runner. He would often carry defenders for several extra yards, or simply break their ankles with a juke move and outrun them to the end zone.

“It’s not unusual to see Larry in practice time running a play out 30 or 40 yards. In his mind, when he touches the football, he’s expecting to go 30 or 40 yards or break it every time he touches it,” Brewer said. “He’s one of the rare players who really, really enjoys playing in a game, but he makes it a joy to practice.”

The final game of Warner’s high school career summed up the diminutive back.

He twisted his ankle early in a playoff game against Tupelo and didn’t seem likely to return. After staying down on the field for several minutes, Warner was carried off the field and wailed in pain.

By halftime, though, he had returned to the sideline. After a few warmup sprints he was back in the game and helping the Vikings stay in it. Tupelo eventually won, 3-0, when a last-second field goal was blocked. Warner finished with 67 yards on 18 carries.

The loss left a bad taste in Warner’s mouth, and he was thankful for the chance to go out on a better note.

“It’s not the same. I’m not out there with all my friends and coaches and the people I’ve always played with. But I’m doing the same thing I do for Warren Central, which is go out and do the best I can,” Warner said. “It’s basically my last high school game. I didn’t have a good ending to the one in the playoffs because I hurt my ankle. “I want to have a good game and put those bad memories behind me.”