By the time Washington outside linebacker Jusstis Warren got acclimated to his talent-rich position group, the writing on the wall was in pencil.
Warren appeared to have worked his way to No. 2 on the Huskies’ depth chart as a redshirt sophomore in 2017, but the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder couldn’t find a foothold on one of the country’s premier defenses.
When he made the switch to offense as a tight end, his reps were also limited.
The writing on the wall was now in bold, permanent marker for Warren, who registered time in 31 games for the Pac-12 power.
It was time to look elsewhere, he said, somewhere that could use the services of the versatile, former three-star recruit.
Eastern Washington, a Football Championship Subdivision power that advanced to the national title game last season, took Warren in for his final season of eligibility this summer.
“I was going into my fifth year, and it gets tedious just doing whatever role they want,” said Warren, who earned his degree in the spring. “You have to figure out what’s best for you.”
Warren and the Eagles open their season as 21-point underdogs Saturday at 13th-ranked Washington.
Any hard feelings toward his former club?
“I’m at Eastern now, and focused what we have to do as a team to win,” Warren said. “I’m not necessarily focused on the background noise. The last four years they didn’t give me a shot, but there was a lot of great talent at my position. They thought what they did was right, and now I’m in this position, so I give glory to God.”
EWU, ranked No. 3 in the FCS preseason coaches poll, is giving him a shot, though, listing him as the No. 2 buck defensive end/linebacker on the two-deep depth chart behind All-Big Sky second-team sophomore Mitch Johnson.
Warren and Johnson expect to rotate Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Jim Townsend, a senior returning starter at the opposite end of EWU’s defense line, said the position group has improved.
“Having Jusstis is a big, big help,” Townsend said. “He’s an experienced player, so to have another guy who has been in games and knows what he is doing out there is going to be a lot of help, especially giving us more depth. He improved our position.”
Warren has also been impressed with his group of edge rushers, praising Johnson, Townsend, Debore’ae McClain and Darnell Hogan by name.
EWU starting slot receiver Jayson Williams and starting safety Dehonta Hayes believe Warren could be an FCS All-American, but they may be a little biased.
Hayes, Williams and Warren were teammates and friends at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, where they starred under former under head coach Jon Kitna, the former Central Washington star quarterback who had a lengthy NFL career.
Williams said he tried to get Warren to come to EWU three years ago.
“I wanted him to come after his freshman year, but he wanted to live that UW life, and I can’t blame him for that,” Williams said. “He got his degree there, and Dehonta and I pushed him to come here to be a part of something special.”
When Hayes heard Warren was looking to transfer, he reached out. Now they share a defense that was among the Big Sky’s best last season.
“He wanted to rush the edge, do something that will make him stand out, because playing fullback wasn’t doing it for him,” Hayes said. “So we sat down and talked about the opportunity he could have here and showcase what he has.
“He is by far one of the most physical guys I have seen in rushing the edge. And makes a lot of plays.”
Warren, whose lone career touchdown was a reception against California in 2017, said playing with Hayes and Williams has enriched his Cheney experience.
“It’s a great time,” Warren said. “Jayson and Dehonta are just two dudes that I love to go to war with anytime, and we’ve known each other for a long time and have that chemistry.”
Washington and EWU have squared off twice, with the Huskies edging the Eagles 59-52 in 2014 and 30-27 in 2011 in Seattle.
If Warren has any intel that could help the Eagles get over the edge, he has a feeling the Huskies may counter it.
“Being in that system, especially on offense, I have some background knowledge,” Warren said. “But that’s a smart school and they’ll know that I have that knowledge, so they’ll probably switch some things up.”
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