‘It Built Me’: After Tough Journey, Jaylen Warren Achieves NFL Dream

PITTSBURGH — Jaylen Warren has not had the normal journey to the NFL. Now that he is on a 53-man roster, he can look back on the journey to this point and see all of the light at the end of the tunnel. However, on many occasions, there never seemed to be that light for Warren to strive for.

His journey starts as a little-known 5-foot-9, 215-pound running back out of Salt Lake City in Utah. In high school, Warren’s senior season was among the most prolific in the state’s history. He put up over 3000 yards rushing and a whopping 38 touchdowns for East High School. Warren was the first-ever player in the state to eclipse that mark. Yet, the offers for Warren never actually rolled in. Somehow, the most prolific runner in the state of Utah was relegated to a JUCO offer. And that offer came about as late in the process as it could. It came so late, in fact, that Warren was ready to quit football.

So, Warren was off to Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. During his two seasons there, Warren was one of the best running backs at the JUCO level. In 2018, Warren racked up 1,435 yards on the ground while earning the NJCAA National Offensive Player of the Year. Not only that, but Warren experienced the highs and lows of JUCO ball. From the lack of resources to the rundown dorms, it was not pretty. JUCO ball was a tough slog for Warren, but it put everything into perspective for him. If it was not for JUCO football, he may never be where he is right now.

“JUCO really made me realize what I was,” Warren said. “You’re not provided much that you get a D-I or wherever else you go. So, when I went to Utah State where they gave you gloves and cleats, I was shocked. I thought I made it there. Up until now, I’m very blessed. If you would have told me I was in this spot five years ago, I would not have believed you. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.”

So, on it was to Logan, Utah. Warren filled the void of former Chiefs sixth-round pick, Darwin Thompson, well. In his 15-game career at Utah State, Warren put up over 800 yards of rushing overall, but something was not right with the fit. Jaylen Warren felt out of place and stuck in the mud. So, he hit the transfer portal. That is when the call from Stillwater, Oklahoma, came in.

Warren ended up at Oklahoma State for his final year of college. It was an impressive season for Warren, who stacked up 1216 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns, and 225 receiving yards. He was named the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year and got an invite to the NFL Combine. Even after all of that, Warren was an undrafted free agent who had to earn his way onto the Steelers’ 53-man roster.

For him, it may seem easy given how often he has defied the odds. So, Warren put his head down again. When the pads came on at Steelers training camp, Warren made a name for himself. Throughout all of the preseason games, Warren flashed in some way each time. It was going to be hard to keep Warren off the team when the Steelers needed help behind Najee Harris. He was proving to be too good.

So, Warren found out shortly after 4 p.m. on Tuesday that he made the Steelers’ final roster. It was monumental for someone who dealt with the mountains and valleys of the journey in football. Warren called his parents to let them know the news. For the first time in the journey, Warren allowed himself to dream a little bit. The light at the end of tunnel became a reality for Warren. He made an NFL roster.

“It was definitely a moment,” Warren said. “My mama, my dad, they were both very happy for me. I never really sat back, my pops asked me if I ever really sit back and think about how long this journey has been. I just go about it day by day, but it was actually one of the first times. You know, I sat at the edge of my bed, ‘Wow, this is crazy, I actually made it.’ I dreamt about this and it came true.”

Warren had a hard enough time even believing he made the NFL back in May. That was a surreal moment but he never let it get to his head. Finally, Warren can have a moment to sit back and appreciate his work up to this point. Playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a fever dream for Jaylen Warren that he has yet to come down from over the past few months. There is work to go ahead and do, but Warren has some security now.

“Every day I come to the facility, I see the Steelers logo, I’m like ‘I’m really going to the Steelers facility,’” Warren said. “I still get the same high I got when I first walked in here.”

Every journey has an endpoint. Warren may not be at that point until he hangs up his cleats, but his lifelong just became a reality. Looking on back on everything that he accomplished since his days back in Salt Lake City, Warren would not regret a single thing he did. Through many ups and downs, Warren would not change a thing.

“I’m very grateful for the role I’ve taken,” Warren said. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I love the road I’ve taken. It built me and made my character. That made me who I am today. I don’t regret it at all.”

While it has yet to be determined where Jaylen Warren fits along the Steelers’ depth chart, he has put up as strong an argument to get the backup role behind Harris. Not only that, but Warren’s special teams’ ability has popped up throughout training camp and the preseason. Warren’s difficult road led him to this point, and now he will reap the rewards.

This content was originally published here.

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