T.J. Warren certainly knows how to make an entrance.
The former Ooltewah High School standout, now a redshirt freshman linebacker at Furman, started his first collegiate game on Sept. 28, against The Citadel. In that first start he had 3.0 tackles for loss, a sack and was named the Southern Conference defensive player of the week.
"If you'd have told me two weeks before that I was going to start and be the player of the week, I'd have told you you were crazy," Warren said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It was pretty unbelievable, but the important thing is that we played well and won the game."
The Paladins (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) picked up their first SoCon win of the season that day, beating the Bulldogs 24-17. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Warren got the start at Mike linebacker spot after Cory Magwood went down with an ankle injury. Last week, in Furman's 28-25 loss to Elon, Warren started again and had six tackles and a pass breakup.
Furman coach Bruce Fowler said Warren will start again Saturday when the Paladins take on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (3-2, 1-1) at Finley Stadium on homecoming.
"He's doing a great job," Fowler said. "He was the backup going into the season and the guy ahead of him got banged up, hurt his ankle, and T.J. came in in The Citadel game and obviously had an outstanding game.
"T.J. is a guy that's really learning his position still, a freshman, and I'm really proud of his progress this season."
Warren said he will have some family and friends in the stands Saturday. He won't be the only Paladin coming home, either. Redshirt sophomore nose tackle John Mackey, a former teammate of Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman at Baylor, is also returning to Chattanooga.
Mackey has 22 tackles, with 3.0 for loss this season, while Warren has 16 and 4.0 for loss.
Also coming back to town is former UTC linebacker and defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey, who left UTC to be an assistant at Furman following the 2011 season.
At Ooltewah, Warren played linebacker, defensive end and wide receiver. He redshirted last season and said he has improved dramatically in numerous areas since arriving at Furman, where he was finally able to concentrate on one position.
"It makes me wish I could go back and play one more game in high school," he said with a laugh. "I know and understand the game so much more now. It's really slowed down for me compared to when I was a senior."
Fowler said Warren has put in the work and it is paying off on the field.
"He's quick to the ball, he's got good speed, he works extremely hard in the offseason programs and in the weight room and on his movement abilities, he's improving those," Fowler said. "He's done a really good job for us the past couple of weeks. We're excited about him and where he is now, but also having him around here as a freshman and the progress he's made really in a short period of time."
Furman's offensive and defensive depth charts feature a combined 16 freshmen, 12 sophomores, 10 juniors and six seniors.
Saturday's UTC-Furman matchup is the SoCon game of the week and can be seen on ESPN3.com. ... Alabama announced Wednesday that its Nov. 23 game against UTC in Tuscaloosa will kick off at 2 p.m. EST, and will be available on pay-per-view.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.