Tri-Cities Fever: Warren settling in at quarterback

May 3, 2013 

It took Dante Warren some time coaching for a high school team to see what he was doing wrong as a quarterback.

He just needed a chance to get onto the field and show people what he could do right.

The 24-year-old who played at the University of South Dakota, is starting to take off as an Indoor Football League quarterback, and he’ll try to do so again when the Tri-Cities Fever hosts the Cedar Rapids Titans at 7:05 p.m. today at Toyota Center.

“We’re behind schedule this season in victories (with just two),” Fever coach Adam Shackleford said after last week’s 57-31 victory over the Wyoming Cavalry. “But we are way ahead of schedule with Dante Warren.”

Warren wasn’t supposed to be the Fever’s starting quarterback this season. That job belonged to Kasey Peters, the backup last season to two-year starter Houston Lillard.

But a 1-4 start by Tri-Cities cost Peters his job, and Shackleford handed the reins to Warren.

Since then, Warren has passed for 502 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception. He’s also rushed for 259 yards and six TDs.

Shackleford has been impressed.

“His progress in this game has been quicker than I expected it to be,” Shackleford said. “Once he became the starter, he felt more comfortable in the offense. He’s a leader. He doesn’t care who played here in the past.”

That’s made a difference.

“The first six games we kind of struggled for some leadership,” Warren said. “At the quarterback position, that’s what called for. That’s part of the game.”

After Warren’s collegiate career at South Dakota was over in 2011, the 6-foot, 196-pounder didn’t get the call from the NFL. Or any other league for that matter, except for a semipro outdoor league in Pennsylvania.

So he also decided to take a quarterbacks coaching position at North Chicago High School in Illinois. He helped the school go from a 1-8 season the year before to 7-2 and the state playoffs last fall.

“I would watch our quarterbacks and see the same mistakes I used to make,” he said. “That helped me. Honestly, coaching got my focus level up. And I’m more mature now than when I was in college.”

Shackleford first noticed Warren at a Spokane Shock tryout in January, and when Warren didn’t make the Spokane team, he accepted Shackleford’s offer to come to the Tri-Cities.

The indoor game was a bit different than the outdoor game Warren knew — even though he’d been working out on a smaller field in Chicago.

“But when I got to (Fever training), camp, I came out slinging the ball hard,” he said. “The receivers were complaining those first eight weeks. Throughout this season, I’ve worked on my touch.”

But he didn’t get the call until last month, in a road loss at Wyoming, when Shackleford pulled Peters and put Warren into the game in the second half. For Warren, it was an adjustment.

“The biggest thing is the speed factor and the anticipation,” he said. “Practice doesn’t help you anticipate the game speed at all. The first couple of games, I used my feet to get me out of trouble.”

Fever veteran receiver Steven Whitehead talked to Warren about that.

“He’s probably one of the most athletic guys I have ever been around,” Whitehead said. “You get (the game) as you get experience. Once you take hits, you can only run the football for so long. You’re landing on concrete out there. You can’t run out of bounds. You run into a wall. What happens is it takes its toll. In this game, you can’t understand it until you play.”

And while he has room to improve, Warren has gotten better in each game he has played.

“He’s a total package,” said Shackleford. “He runs well and can throw the football. He’s not rattled. He’s hard on himself.”

But with a 2-6 record, can he rally the Fever to make the IFL playoffs?

“We’ve still got a shot to make the playoffs,” Warren said. “No one is done here.”

Whitehead agrees.

“It’s in the making for a great story,” Whitehead said. “The reality is, no team wants to see us if we make the playoffs.”

But from here on out, it starts one game at a time — beginning with tonight’s game against Cedar Rapids (5-3).

Warren corrects the writer.

“Really, it’s one offensive drive at a time,” he said.

Notes: Cedar Rapids comes into the game with the IFL’s top-scoring offense, averaging 53.8 points. Tri-Cities is fourth at 43.8 points per game. … The Titans have the league’s second-best scoring defense, allowing 39.6 points per game. The Fever ranks seventh at 44.5 points per game … The Fever will face a familiar quarterback when former Everett Raptor Charles McCullum lines up for the Titans. McCullum has played in seven games this season, completing 72 of 136 passes for 839 yards and 18 touchdowns …Titans RB Laron Council leads the league in rushing with 468 yards and 16 touchdowns … Whitehead is fourth in the league with 39 receptions … Lionell Singleton is tied for the league lead with six interceptions.

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