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‘It Built Me’: How Doubt Fueled Jaylen Warren in His Rise to NFL Stardom



Steelers RB Jaylen Warren
Steelers RB Jaylen Warren warms up before the game against the Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Steelers running back Jaylen Warren will remember his performance against the Green Bay Packers for a long time. Notching his first career 100-yard game, he dominated. Warren is a fun, explosive player, but this meant more to him personally. He gifted his mom the jersey that he wore in that game as a gift to her for getting him to this point.

“Yeah, I gave my mom the jersey from that game as a gift,” Warren said. “It’s just a big game for me.”

Warren’s path is anything but easy. It goes from JUCO to Utah State and finally ends in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with Oklahoma State. So, Warren is conditioned to be in the space from a competition standpoint. He is the all-time leading rusher in the state of Utah for his high school career, but after being snubbed in the recruiting process, Warren relied upon his hard work and traits instilled by his parents and coaches while in high school. But he never expected this level of success.

I don’t usually expect nothing or envision anything,” Warren said. “I put my best foot forward and whatever happens, happens.”

Steelers RB Jaylen Warren

Steelers RB Jaylen Warren carries the ball against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

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 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.

Teams Now Notice Warren

But that is changing for Jaylen Warren. No longer is he the undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State that no one knows. He’s the equal to Najee Harris and a player teams watch. Warren first heard his name called out by an opposing coach when John Harbaugh mentioned him when they faced the Baltimore Ravens. Now, every team does the same. But somehow, Warren still thinks he might be flying under the radar.

“I’ve heard from talk outside that teams are mentioning me in their team meetings,” Warren said. “I don’t know, I think that’s pretty cool, you know. That means I’m a contributor.”

Warren is known for flying under the radar and thinks that teams don’t fully grasp what he can do even when they watch him on tape. Defensive linemen still get stunned when he wallops them in pass protection. He’s more of a show-you guy on the football field. But he’s been doubted his entire life. It’s nothing new.

“I’ve been doubted my whole life,” Warren said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they doubted me. I don’t really pass the eye test. You know, I go out there and I don’t do too much, but when you play me on the field, that’s when it shows.”

Mike Tomlin gave Warren an award, allowing him to be announced with the starters. He told him on Friday that he earned that through his hard work and mentality. In front of the entire team, Warren got his props for stepping up in a big way when no one else saw it coming.

“He did kind of mention the night before that whatever had transpired throughout the team, he was saying that he was going to announce me and that I’m deserving of it,” Warren said.

Warren had a hard enough time even believing he made the NFL. Now, he’s starring in the gameplan for other teams. It’s a surreal moment for one of Pittsburgh’s best finds in recent years, but his journey is something he could never change and would not want to change.

“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.”

Warren will continue to ascend as his play does. He does just about everything well on the football field. The doubt fuels him every day he goes out there. And that’s probably why he is improving each week. Expect to see Warren even more.