Olentangy Liberty’s football team takes captainship seriously.
Patriots coach Steve Hale consults his staff and his players at the Powell, Ohio, high school to find leaders who command respect. He even looks to teachers and administrators for character evaluations.
In his 13 years at Liberty (and 17 total as a head coach), Hale’s captains had been exclusively seniors. But for the 2016 season, that trend changed. The chosen trio consisted of Ohio State early enrollee Brendon White, senior lineman Connor Parrish … and junior middle linebacker Edward Warinner, who committed to Michigan State in April.
— Edward Warinner (@ed_warinner) April 12, 2017
“I think it’s something that our entire team saw and our coaching staff saw,” Hale said of Warinner’s selection. “He’s got strong leadership skills, and we felt that we didn’t need to hold those back for another year. We could let him show those. His teammates never doubted the decision at all. They were in his corner from Day One.”
It’s what you’d expect from a coach’s son. Warinner’s father, Ed, is the Minnesota offensive line coach and former Ohio State offensive coordinator. Not surprisingly, Warinner has developed a reputation as a student of the game who spends a lot of time watching film and expects teammates to do the same.
So why didn’t the coach’s son follow the coach? The thought certainly crossed Warinner’s mind. But as he mulled over the pros and cons, it became clear that he didn’t want his father’s job to dictate his decision — and neither did his father.
“Going somewhere because my dad is coaching there would be a stupid bet for me,” Warinner said. “Assuming a college coach is going to be anywhere for five years is a push. I kind of wanted to do my own thing, and I wanted to go where I love.
“Of all people, he was the most supportive. He was the one who had to tell me that. I was the one who was kind of like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want me to play for you?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no.’ ”
Michigan State had been on Warinner’s radar long before the Spartans began recruiting him. His mother attended MSU, as did much of her family, which has a strong presence in Detroit.
Growing up in Big Ten country — especially as the son of a Big Ten coach — meant watching a lot of Michigan State football. And the Spartans stuck out to him as he learned more.
“You kind of see how good of a program Coach [Mark] Dantonio has run at Michigan State,” he said. “Then you start to look a little deeper into it, and you start to see the kind of kids they recruit and from where they recruit them.
“I always thought I could kind of fit that mold, and so did the people in my family, and so did my coaches. With all of that plus the success they have and the family connection, it was always the one that I wanted.”
He had to wait for that chance a little longer than he might have anticipated. The recruiting interest started after his sophomore season and carried over to the start of his junior year. Then in Week 8 he tore an ACL, ending his season.
Linebackers coach Mike Tressel, his main recruiter, emphasized how the Spartans’ pursuit of Warinner would continue. They just needed to wait until he was healthy to consider an offer.
That offer came after Warinner was cleared and showed what he could do. He came away from a trip to East Lansing with the offer he wanted. After taking a few days to evaluate the offers he had and those that might still come, his choice was clear. As he put it, “I was hooked.”
But he still had another college visit scheduled for the next weekend. Warinner’s mother, a Michigan State alumna, made sure he didn’t rush into a commitment to her alma mater.
“When I told her I wanted to commit to Michigan State before going on the visit, of all the people, she was like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go on this visit?’ She was the one that was like, ‘Are you sure?’ ” Warinner said.
He decided he was sure and committed that Wednesday, April 12. No more visits to other schools. No transferring to a high school near Minnesota’s campus, which had been a consideration. He plans to graduate from Liberty and enroll early at Michigan State.
The 6-foot-2 MIKE linebacker intends to be a student at his dream school less than a year from now. As his captaincy showed, Warinner likes to be a step ahead.
“I’m sure there’ll be a learning curve for him,” Hale said. “I would assume that may involve a redshirt; I’m not sure. But he’ll be definitely a guy that develops up there and be a guy that has a good career up there.”
And what will it be like when he takes on his father’s Golden Gophers? Warinner sighs at the idea.
“I don’t know,” he laughs. “I have no idea. We’ll see. We’ll cross that road when we get there.”