The rowdiness of ESPN's College GameDay was the top draw in Aggieland last Saturday morning, attracting a sea of hollering students and wacky signs in anticipation of Texas A&M's bout with Tennessee later that day. Fifteen miles away, on a quiet road in Millican, a small group of youngsters was celebrating Aggie football in a completely different way: learning from three of its former stars.
The location was Field House Sports, Ty Warren's new multisport facility, across the street from the Millican United Methodist Church. The Bryan native and former A&M defensive end has established training in a variety of sports at Field House and brings in fellow Aggies to lead football clinics for young athletes. Saturday's focus was on running backs, and the A&M guest stars were Greg Hill and Dante Hall.
It's all a part of Warren's plan after retiring from the National Football League, to come home and give back.
"I always felt like I had a calling," says the 35-year-old Warren, who was raised by his mother and his grandparents. "Just because of my journey, and coming up through this area, and coming from humble beginnings and having to clear a lot of hurdles in my life. I felt like I had a calling to come back and do what the community did for me. It took a community to raise me. It took my mother, it took grandparents, counselors, coaches, teachers. I could name a number of folks who made an impact on me and opened my eyes to the important things."
Warren, who calls himself "sports director and football pro" for Field House, has a subdued delivery, but his passion is obvious. And it's infectious, as shown by the effort Hill made in driving in from north of Dallas to arrive by the clinic's 8 a.m. start time. When Warren comes calling, Hill says, "You come on down."
"Ty has opened up a phenomenal facility," Hill says. "He's basically showing you, 'I'm putting my money where my mouth is.' He's actually put his money and time into it, and he's giving back. There should be nothing more that you want to do than to support a situation like that."
From Bryan to New England
The 35,000-square-foot Field House is a step up from where Warren played sports as a child, which mainly consisted of the Boys and Girls Club, city fields and neighborhood yards. He and his friends would watch sports on television -- whether it was Nolan Ryan pitching, Hakeem Olajuwon's "Dream Shake" or Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers games -- and then head outside to mimic what they had just watched.
The 6-foot-5 Warren starred at Bryan High at defensive end and graduated in 1999. He was heavily recruited, and when asked who was after him, he responds, "Pretty humbly, just about everybody." That list included Texas, USC, Tennessee and Miami.
Warren stayed home and attended A&M from 1999 to 2002, working his way up to All-Big 12 second-team honors in his last year. The New England Patriots selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft, and he would earn Super Bowl rings with the team in 2004 and 2005. He had his best statistical season in 2006 with 84 tackles and 7.5 sacks, and he earned a lucrative contract extension the following year.
One of Warren's most talked-about NFL moments happened off the field. He turned down $250,000 in bonuses for offseason workouts in 2010 so that he could return to A&M to work on his degree. By that point, he had experience working with kids, and he says that was a reason he wanted to achieve that goal of a degree.
"It wasn't really a money thing, it was a moral thing," Warren says. "I let the team know that. They didn't agree with it initially. They wanted me to go to school up in New England. But I told them there's no school in New England that's got 'TAMU' on there."
Warren graduated the following year with a degree in agricultural leadership and development. He finished his NFL career in 2012 after two injury-filled years in Denver. Though he says he could have played longer, he was satisfied with 10 years in the league.
What Warren and his wife, Ebony, who goes by Kesha, experienced throughout their years in Massachusetts and Colorado helped to shape what would come next. They noticed innovative sports facilities and child-care centers and would remark to each other, "That would be cool if we had something like that back home." Warren also shadowed the staff of a property management business in Denver to learn how the operation worked and to get experience in such tasks as setting up and handling QuickBooks for a business.
The Warrens -- who have four daughters -- returned to the area in 2013 and soon put plans together for Field House Sports. The building includes a softball/baseball field, batting cages, pitching areas and a film room. The facility's ribbon cutting was held in June, but Warren says it is still in a "soft opening" stage.
"We didn't want to do this mass hiring and have a bunch of people that were here but weren't really vested, just to say we got a staff," he says. "Get the people in place that were like-minded and wanted to be here, and just let the chips fall where they may."
Learning from the Aggies
Seven children and teenagers were in attendance at last week's clinic, and it was clear that most didn't recognize the Aggie greatness in front of them. Given that the ages ranged from 9 to 16, it was understandable that they weren't familiar with Hill's record-setting debut as a freshman at A&M, when he ran over LSU for 212 yards in 1991. And maybe they didn't know about Hall's highlight-reel NFL career, when he earned trips to the Pro Bowl with a series of slippery punt and kick returns for touchdowns, some of them defying the north-and-south logic of Football 101.
Hill, who was a first-round pick by Kansas City in 1994, shared tough childhood tales, along with football talk from his high school experience at Dallas Carter. He showed motivational-speaker flair with such phrases as "Your attitude can determine your altitude."
Hall asked each attendee for their height and weight and paid special attention to the smaller players, since he was once in their shoes. Some on the younger end of the scale didn't have such answers at the ready, so Hall invited one to stand next to him. He estimated the 10-year-old's height at just under 5 feet.
"How much do you weigh?" Hall asked, and got a blank stare and a shrug in return.
"Let's see," Hall said, sweeping him off his feet, picking him up and declaring, "You feel like you're about 115."
A film session followed, and the Aggies quizzed the attendees about offensive formations and zone defenses versus man-to-man. Next up, the practice field. Hill, Hall and Warren led the players in a series of activities, from catching punts to tricky footwork drills. Hill took a camper under his wing and dubbed him "Old School" for his retro wristbands. And after a fumble, "Old School" had to do 10 pushups.
Toward the end of the four-hour clinic, the attendees got more motivation from Hill, with Warren chiming in vocal support.
Hill: "The way you do anything is the way you do everything."
Warren, standing 20 feet behind him: "Preach!"
Hill: "So if I'm a good football player, that means I gotta be at home cleaning the house, I gotta do my chores the way my mom and dad say, I gotta do my school work."
It was the second Field House event for Daniel Sill, an 11-year-old sixth-grader who goes to Cypress Grove Intermediate School. He wasn't familiar with the players beforehand but said his father had shown him video clips of Hall's kick returns. Sill's take: "He was very agile."
"It's fun," he said of the clinic, "and I'm happy that it's not, like, one-on-one. So it's not really competition, you just do what they do, and it's fun. Also you get to watch film, so it's different from a regular football practice, and you get to learn different types of things and how to play better at your position."
Field House's future
There was plenty of laughter amid the instruction, whether it was the former players kidding with the kids or with each other. Hill cracked up the room by checking with parents to see if the attendees could repeat the third word in "Beat the hell outta Tennessee."
"All that stuff is just having fun," Warren says. "That's the camaraderie you would see in any organization in sports. We hadn't seen each other in years. It's like a good friend, you just jump in like you never left."
More clinics with former players are in store at Field House, including sessions for offensive linemen Oct. 29 with Richmond Webb, Seth McKinney and Rick Cunningham; wide receivers Nov. 12 with Robert Ferguson and former Patriots great Deion Branch; and linebackers Nov. 19 with Reggie Brown.
This fall season is more about "getting the temperature on a lot of stuff," Warren says, and the Field House crew will move beyond soft-opening mode in the spring. The Brazos Valley Girls Softball Association is using the facility, and Warren says soccer will be a part of the mix. He has plans for seven-on-seven football and wants to expand the facility's reach by installing practice fields outside. But he's already impressed his fellow Aggies.
"It's beautiful," Hall says. "Ty and I have a great rapport, so when he called me to come down, it was a no-brainer. I love what he's doing. He's giving back to the community, sharing his experience and his knowledge, and bringing guys that have that experience and knowledge. And just trying to give back to the kids."
Warren says he enjoys seeing kids "defy the odds." His example is watching children who may lack speed or confidence learning how to work at it, and through that process gaining the ability to reach their goals.
"I get satisfaction from that," he says. "Just doing something they don't think they can do. That was the story of my life. That was the story of a lot of people's lives. … I get a real satisfaction over people that overcome a lot."