Two weeks prior to taking an unofficial visit to the Naval Academy, J’arius Warren received some life-changing news: His father had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.
Claude Gordon Jr. passed away on Jan. 17, 2017 at the age of 73.
Warren, who was a senior in high school at the time, was devastated and called Navy assistant Ashley Ingram to say he would not be coming to Annapolis for the visit. Ingram kept Warren on the phone to offer support and made it clear the entire Navy coaching staff was there for him.
The sincere expression of compassion meant a lot to Warren and played a role in his eventual decision to attend the academy, where he is enjoying a strong senior season this fall while ranking among the Navy defensive leaders with 22 tackles.
Previously, Warren had been intent on committing to Tulane in order to be close to his father, who resided in the New Orleans suburb of Edgard, Louisiana. Gordon’s death led Warren to more seriously consider playing football for Navy and the advice of an older sister sealed the deal.
Rhonjean Davis served 23 years in the United States Navy as a nurse practitioner. She was deployed to Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was later stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany along with bases in Bahrain, Guam, Hawaii, Japan and Spain.
When Davis learned her baby brother was being recruited by Navy, she urged him to quickly accept the offer.
“She pretty much told me this was a lifetime opportunity you are going to get, and you’ll be set up for success in the long run,” Warren said. “I had to take it as being about the next 40 years instead of the next five. I followed her advice and it’s been a dream come true.”
Of course it helped that his mother, Vertilla Rogers, fully supported the decision and has been there to help Warren get through the Naval Academy.
“My mother has always been my rock. She’s always been there and is the person I go to whenever times get hard. My mother is a strong, independent woman,” Warren said.
Nearing the end of a productive playing career and having developed dramatically as a midshipman, Warren has no regrets. The Mississippi native is a three-year starter at defensive tackle who has applied for Marine Corps Ground as a service selection.
Warren would love to eventually follow in his sister’s footsteps by working in the medical field and has long expressed a desire to use his skills to help people.
“Football was never Jay’s main goal in life. He wanted to find a career he could be proud of and use the knowledge gained for the rest of his life,” Davis said. “We talk all the time and I always tell Jay that our dad would be so proud of the man he’s become.”
The 6-foot-1, 257-pound product of Long Beach High has amassed 99 career tackles and four sacks despite going against offensive linemen who are always much taller, heavier and stronger.
“J’arius is one of our toughest players. He’s an undersized defensive lineman who gets in there and battles, so his body pays a price and he’s banged up every week,” Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry said.
Warren flashed his talent and potential as a sophomore and wound up starting 10 of 13 games during the 2019 season. He recorded 44 tackles and proved himself a playmaker with two sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
However, the youngster did have a few growing pains.
“J’arius was not a guy who early on was super-reliable. He was a good player but might try to do too much, get out of his gap or have his eyes in the wrong place,” Newberry explained. “So just his maturity and growth are impressive. He’s just a much more polished, more disciplined player now.
“I think J’arius has accepted his role within the structure of the defense, which makes him a much more reliable player.”
Credit for Warren’s development is directly attributable to assistant Jerrick Hall, who works with the nose guards and defensive tackles. Hall was a standout defensive lineman for North Carolina State and his hands-on style of coaching has greatly benefitted Warren.
“I love Coach Hall and really trust him because he knows what he’s talking about. We’ll sit down and watch film and break down what teams like to do in certain situations so I can recognize certain formations and try to play faster,” Warren said.
Warren has come to enjoy and value watching film on his own. While sitting in his dorm room in Bancroft Hall, Warren looks for an explanation as to why the upcoming opponent’s center and guard are blocking a certain way.
“I text Coach Hall throughout the night asking what I should do in certain situations. He’ll hit me back with a quick text explaining why we do something or whether I have the A or B gap on a rush,” Warren said. “He’s just a phenomenal coach and has taught me a lot about different blocking schemes.”
Hall, in his third season at Navy, sounds like a proud papa when discussing the development of Warren over the last three years. Warren is playing the best football of his career as a senior and that is rewarding for the instructor.
“I couldn’t be more excited and pleased with the effort Jay is giving us out there. From sophomore year to now, he has matured so much,” Hall said. “He’s grown into a leader of the [defensive] front and the younger guys look up to him. It’s been fun to watch Jay take ownership of the room.”
Newberry briefly flirted with flip-flopping Warren and defensive end Jackson Perkins at the beginning of last season. That experiment lasted one game before Perkins returned to end and Warren went home to tackle.
“As much slants and angles as we do, Jay really fits the mold as far as quickness,” Hall explained. “He’s strong, quick and plays with good pad level, which is what has allowed him to be successful with all the stunts we do.”
Warren is grateful for the guidance provided by veteran defensive end Jarvis Polu when he was a plebe. Polu, a three-year starter, would take time to teach the scout team players. That meant the world to Warren, who primarily played linebacker in high school and was still adjusting to being a down lineman.
“Jarvis had mastered the mundane, so he took me under his wing and taught me the playbook and about techniques,” Warren said.
Now Warren is paying it forward, using his knowledge and experience to help sophomore nose guards Donald Berniard Jr. and Clay Cromwell along with the younger players at his own position.
Like all midshipmen, Warren had his struggles with the academic and military requirements of the academy. He has come through unscathed and will earn an English degree before hopefully heading to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia for Marine Corps officer training.
Warren thinks back to the spring of his plebe year when Newberry, Hall and several other new defensive assistants arrived. He had no idea what position he would be asked to play.
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“It’s been a great journey to get to play football here at the Naval Academy. To be a man here in this arena is a humbling experience,” Warren said. “From a football perspective, my growth here has been astronomical. When I came in, I was a little selfish and immature. This season, I’ve taken it to another level as far as being where I’m supposed to be every time.”