Terry Changuris had to chuckle. The 50-year-old coach is in his 15th season at the helm of Seneca Valley, arguably Maryland's most successful high school football program, but this was something new.
"Justin respectfully declines to be interviewed for a story about him because he doesn't want to draw attention to himself," Changuris told a reporter earlier this week, somewhat taken aback. "Told you he was a unique kid."
Changuris was referring to his senior tailback, Justin Warren. The transfer student from the Philadelphia suburbs has made a mark among teammates this season with his humility, but his ability and performance for No. 9 Seneca Valley has made it impossible for him to hide from the spotlight.
In his first season with the Screaming Eagles, Warren has rushed for 1,720 yards and a school-record 28 touchdowns, helping lead the Germantown football power to its 12th state championship appearance. Tonight at 7 at Ravens Stadium, Warren and Seneca Valley (9-2) will face No. 16 Linganore (10-2) for the Maryland 3A title.
Warren and his family moved to Germantown last winter after his father accepted a job in the Washington area. Though he rushed for 1,002 yards at Abington (Pa.) High last fall and worked hard in the offseason with his new teammates, Warren was reluctant to ask for the ball or a starting spot.
"He and Neal Stokes were kind of sharing time in preseason," Changuris said. "Neal was a returning starter and a very popular member of the team, so Justin was kind of stepping carefully."
Stokes, however, separated his shoulder in a scrimmage, and the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Warren was thrust into a starting role. It didn't take long for Changuris to find out he had a special back.
On Seneca Valley's first play from scrimmage in its season opener against Wheaton, Warren took a handoff, broke through a hole over right tackle and sprinted 74 yards for a touchdown and a shocking first impression.
"It was just a simple, I-formation off-tackle play," Changuris said. "He broke through the line clean, broke to the outside and outran everyone to the end zone."
Warren rushed for 205 yards and another touchdown in the Screaming Eagles' 20-0 victory, and he hasn't let up. His play has been a major factor in Seneca Valley's return to the state championship game after a two-year hiatus, but Warren's unassuming attitude is what has endeared him to his teammates.
"He doesn't want all the attention to be on him, that's what I like about him," Seneca Valley senior lineman Ronnie Ricketts said. "It shows character. He thinks he has enough recognition. He just wants to win a state championship."
"He's as nice a kid as you'd ever want to meet," said Changuris, who has won six state titles and compiled a career record of 148-29. "He's a gentleman, he's smart, he has high academic achievement, he's a family man, he's church-going, he's polite. . . . If trying to do everything you can to be as perfect as you can is annoying, then he can be annoying at times. But it doesn't annoy me."
Changuris said Warren, who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, has drawn the interest of mid- and lower-level Division I programs. A late-season push, however, may grab the attention of bigger schools.
Since the team dropped to 5-2 with a 20-0 loss to Northwest on Oct. 30, Warren has rushed for 843 yards and 17 touchdowns on 105 carries, and the Screaming Eagles have won four straight.
"It's doubtful we'd be where we are without him," Changuris said. "Seventeen touchdowns in four games, I think that speaks for itself."
Which is why Warren doesn't have to.