Vols’ Warren asked if he played in the ‘Battle at Bristol’

Tennessee Athletics photo by Kate Luffman / Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren has returned for a sixth season with the Volunteers, having lived through plenty of highs and lows.
Tennessee Athletics photo by Kate Luffman / Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren has returned for a sixth season with the Volunteers, having lived through plenty of highs and lows.

Tennessee sixth-year senior tight end Jacob Warren thought he had heard it all regarding his age.

“I get stuff about that all the time,” the 23-year-old said, “but I seriously got asked the other day if I played in the ‘Battle at Bristol.’ I said, ‘Do you know how long ago that was? No, I didn’t play in that game. I was in high school.’

“I realize I’m getting up there. It kind of is what it is.”

Warren did commit to the Volunteers in the spring of 2017, when Butch Jones still coached the program, but he was not on the 2016 roster that thumped Virginia Tech 45-24 before a college football record crowd of 156,990 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 6-foot-6, 252-pounder from Farragut High School in Knoxville signed in Jeremy Pruitt’s first class and spent three seasons under Pruitt, who was fired in January 2021 and replaced by Josh Heupel.

Having been named to the Southeastern Conference’s academic honor roll a record five times, Warren was a logical choice when it came to a player Heupel could quickly trust.

“Jacob has been a fantastic leader inside of our program,” Heupel said. “From the moment I got here, he has been really mature and has cared about the people around him. He has been very thoughtful in the way he wants to improve. He has a great plan and works that plan every single day.

“His maturity and his leadership have been instrumental in what we’ve done. I know that’s in the past, but it’s certainly been felt since we got back in January.”

Warren has appeared in 41 career games and made 20 career starts for the Vols, living through plenty of ups and downs in the process. He has 37 career receptions for 416 yards and four touchdowns, with 30 of those catches having transpired in Heupel’s two seasons that have yielded an 18-8 record, including last year’s 11-2 run to an Orange Bowl championship.

He graduated with a degree in kinesiology in May 2021 and is pursuing a Master of Science in agricultural leadership, education and communication. His perseverance both in the classroom and on the field knows no bounds.

“I experienced most of my lows early on,” Warren said. “I just wasn’t playing and was more and more of a developmental guy who didn’t know if he had a role or if he had a future with the team. I just decided to work and really commit to the training table and eating the right way and lifting weights so I could put myself in a position to be playing the game like I am right now.

“I definitely hit low points, but I’m happy that I came out on the other side with some motivation and some confidence.”

Heupel’s arrival was strange at first — “There were so many things in those early practices, and don’t take this the wrong way, that seemed unnecessary,” Warren said — but it didn’t take long for the players to buy in and experience positive results. Quarterback Hendon Hooker and receiver Cedric Tillman flourished in 2021, and receiver Jalin Hyatt last season became the first Biletnikoff Award recipient in program history.

While Hooker, Tillman and Hyatt were grabbing most of the headlines with Tennessee’s offensive successes, Warren and fellow tight end Princeton Fant were quietly being productive as well.

“I think we do a lot of really cool things that really make the offense go,” Warren said. “Obviously there are times I would prefer to catch another ball in a game or catch a touchdown in the red zone here or there, and that will come, but putting your head down and going to work is what being a tight end is all about.”

The son of James Warren, who lettered for the Vols as a 315-pound tackle in the 1993-94 seasons, is now joined in the tight end room by UC Davis transfer McCallan Castles and four-star freshman signee Ethan Davis. Fant was not selected in the NFL draft this past April but recently began preseason camp with the Dallas Cowboys.

Fant’s decision last year to return for a sixth season was rewarded with memorable victories over Florida, LSU and Alabama in the regular season before the Vols took down Clemson in Miami. Warren doesn’t know what’s in store in his final months, but he’s eager to work to find out.

“I’ve got a lot of really good friends and a lot of really good coaches, and obviously we’re going to have a pretty good season and a really good football team,” Warren said. “A lot of us have ourselves on this timeline that we have set for ourselves. It’s kind of a, ‘This is where I should be when I’m 23 years old.’ There are guys in the NFL who are my age and have been playing for two years.

“Obviously I had a real decision to make, but I’m happy I stayed.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

  photo  AP photo by George Walker IV / Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren responds to questions during his team's session at SEC Media Days on July 20 in Nashville.
 
 

TENNESSEE

Last season: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)

Opener: Sept. 2 against Virginia in Nashville (noon on ABC)

Fun fact: Josh Heupel’s seven wins over AP Top 25 teams are the most by a Tennessee coach through his first 26 games.

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