by Gene Marrano
A four time thousand yard rusher – in consecutive seasons – Chris Warren ran and caught passes that totaled around 10,000 yards in the NFL, mainly for the Seattle Seahawks. Believe it or not, he went from tiny Division III Ferrum College to pro ball, after beginning his college career at Virginia. Warren, now back at Ferrum to complete his degree and to help coach running backs for the Panthers, addressed the November meeting of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club.
A number of Roanoke-area alumni were on hand to pepper Warren with questions on life in the National Football League – like who hit him the hardest as he came across the line with the ball? (Count former Packers and Eagles defensive end Reggie White among that bunch.) Warren played 11 seasons all told in the NFL, the first eight with Seattle, the last three with Dallas and Philadelphia.
Ferrum head coach Dave Harper, who just completed his first season on the job, spoke first about the soon-to-be completed Hank Norton Center, which will house football training facilities and space for other outdoor sports at the school. Harper sees the Norton Center (named for legendary Panthers coach Hank Norton, whom Harper played for) as being a big asset when trying to recruit football players to the small private school (less than 2000 students), which is twice as expensive to attend as many state colleges or universities.
“The two things you have to sell [to recruits] are the facilities and the weight room,” said Harper, who played with Warren at Ferrum in the late ‘80’s, returned as an assistant coach in 1991 and has never left. “Be yourself,” Norton often tells him during their weekly phone conversations, “and that’s what I try to do.” (Jim Hickam, the longtime Northside coach until being let go several years ago, also joined the Ferrum staff after that and just recently retired.)
As for Warren, “he’s effortless…he was an unbelievable teammate,” Harper recalled for the Sports Club audience. “His [NFL] stats speak for him.” Harper and Warren are the only two athletes to have their numbers retired by Ferrum College. He holds the school records for total rushing yards and most points scored, in a season and career-wise. The three-time NFL Pro Bowler also scored 57 touchdowns as a pro.
Warren played with quarterbacks like Warren Moon and Troy Aikman during his NFL career, which lasted about twice as long as it usually does for the average running back. “I’ve been lucky,” said Warren, who was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL draft by Seattle. That was even after he didn’t make it back to campus to work out for the Seahawks after his car broke down – instead the Seattle contingent came to the rest stop where he was waiting for help and worked him out right there.
Warren is enrolling in classes at Ferrum and wants to set an example for other student athletes by finishing his degree. He’s got about two full semesters to go. “Ferrum College means the world to me,” said Warren, who feels coaching is the “perfect” way for him to give back to the community at this point in time. Roanoke Valley Sports Club meetings will resume in January. Call President Dave Ross at 774-1080, or Tom Marchi at 588-2969 for more information.