Warner taking game to So. Illinois|[02/02/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

As a star running back at Warren Central, Larry Warner dreamed of playing in front of crowds of 90,000 people in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

For a variety of reasons, the dream didn’t turn into reality and Warner went off to play junior college football at Gulf Coast Community College. The route gave Warner two years to hone his skills and dream the SEC dream some more.

As he prepares to leave Gulf Coast, however, Warner’s SEC dreams have come to an end. None of the big schools have come calling. And Warner couldn’t be happier.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The diminutive Warner, a 5-foot, 5-inch running back who ran for 1,244 yards last season while earning National Junior College Athletic Association All-America honors at Gulf Coast, has verbally committed to play at Southern Illinois next season.

Warner had also been courted by Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette, but both wanted to use him primarily as a kick returner and backed off their recruiting efforts in recent weeks.

That led Warner to Carbondale, Ill., where he’ll have a chance to be an every down back and continue a strong run of backs who came from junior colleges and made a big impact.

New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs was a juco transfer who played one season at Southern Illinois in 2004. And the man Warner is expected to replace, Arkee Whitlock, became a two-time All-American after transferring to SIU from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.

The Salukis finished the 2006 season ranked No. 7 in Division I-AA and made their fourth straight trip to the playoffs.

&#8220I like the offense they run. I feel like it fits my abilities. They run an I-formation, and I feel like I’m more of an I running back,” said Warner, who will officially become a Saluki on Wednesday, the first day players are allowed to sign national letters of intent. &#8220I’m happy I signed with Southern Illinois. They won their conference three of the last five years. The program is on the rise, and they recruited me to be the guy.

They want to win a championship, and that’s what I’m all about.”

All Warner has done in his career is produce big plays and big seasons. He rose from the third string to starter in his junior season at Warren Central, then ran for 2,929 yards in a season and a half.

Because of his height, however, colleges had questions about his durability. Few of the big names came calling, and he signed with Southern University in 2004. Warner failed to make a qualifying ACT score, though, and ended up at Gulf Coast.

In one season as a junior college starter – he was behind Oklahoma State tailback Dantrell Savage on the depth chart in 2005 – Warner ran for 1,244 yards and 10 touchdowns while becoming an NJCAA All-American.

&#8220I have no regrets about coming to junior college. That’s the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” Warner said. &#8220I believe everything happens for a reason. Hinds left me off their protected list for a reason, I went to Gulf Coast for a reason, and I’m going to Southern Illinois for a reason.”

Despite his success, most colleges still had doubts about Warner. That’s fine by him. He said he uses it as motivation.

&#8220I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder. I wanted to play Division I. But they looked at my height and turned away instead of giving me an opportunity. I feel I could have played for them if given the opportunity,” Warner said. &#8220My goal is to be the number one running back in Division I football, so when Southern Miss and all the other schools look at it they can see what they missed.”