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AMES — Mike Warren subscribes to the idea that you finish what you start.
His sophomore season with the Iowa State football team didn’t go as planned, and it was a source of frustration.
Ankle injuries, an offensive line that struggled to aid the running game and young, talented running backs waiting in the wings all took a toll on Warren. He had a decision to make at season’s end.
“Just hearing that voice in the back of my head, ‘You can’t leave. You’ve got to stick it out,’” Warren said. “Times are always going to be tough. Times are tough and you just have to keep on pushing through it.”
Warren was the lone man in the backfield as a freshman, amassing 1,339 yards. As a sophomore he produced 559 rushing yards while sharing time with David Montgomery and Joel Lanning, who both went over 500 yards on the season.
At the conclusion of last season, Warren met with Iowa State coach Matt Campbell about a wide range of topics. The experience had humbled Warren, and made him ready to come back this spring reenergized.
“Probably 95 percent of the kids that are in his position leave,” Campbell said. “Mike’s conversation was never that. It was about the team. The one thing I’ve always appreciated about Mike is that Mike is a great teammate.
“You go through peaks and valleys, especially when you’re young and you’re early in your career, so I think you’re just going to continue to see the best of Mike Warren as this continues to go.”
Montgomery established himself as the go-to ball carrier the last four games and will likely remain in that role this spring. But a tandem system with a healthy, engaged Warren is invaluable.
“He’s tough and very tough-minded,” Montgomery said. “Really, it’s not about him and he didn’t make it about him. He never made it about him.
“So him just stepping up and changing himself to make sure he’d be better for us, that exemplifies loyalty to me. He stayed here and stuck it out. That’s what I needed from him and I love that from him.”
Warren’s offseason conditioning habits yielded the results he and the coaches wanted. Running backs coach Lou Ayeni sees a new competitive fire in him, which has carried onto the practice field in the first few days of spring ball.
“When Mike’s attitude is right and his investment is high, he’s in a good place,” Ayeni said. “I notice it on the field. Like he’ll mess up and he’ll let me coach him. I notice it when he deals with the freshmen now. He’s not threatened by them. He embraces them.”
Freshman year motivated Warren to be great. Sophomore year humbled him. Junior year, he hopes, will be a more complete representation of the kind of player he strives to be.
“Mentally tough things are always going to be there,” Warren said. “It’s never going to go away so you have to learn how to train your mind and feed your mind positive thoughts. Just keep on believing in yourself and taking the advice of others around you.”
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