FAYETTEVILLE — Those tending ostentatiously in the end zone to celebrate their touchdowns usually get the coaching reminder “act like you’ve never been there before.”
But what if as a receiver you haven’t been there before?
That was De’Vion Warren’s case when he caught the 17-yard touchdown pass for Arkansas’ second to last score last Saturday in the Razorbacks’ 65-31 SEC loss to nationally No. 1 Alabama.
Fortunately, the sophomore from Monroe, Louisiana, followed his instincts in Fayetteville for his first Arkansas touchdown catch.
Arkansas coach Chad Morris nor his assistants had cause to remind Warren to act like he had been there before.
“It was amazing,” Warren said. “As you saw, I didn’t know what to do, so we just celebrated with my teammates as we always do. Celebrate as a brotherhood. That’s it.”
Actually, Warren has been there before. Just not as an Arkansas receiver.
He returned a kickoff end zone to end zone for the 100-yard touchdown as Arkansas’ final score in last year’s 52-20 SEC loss to Auburn in Fayetteville.
He almost repeated the feat against Alabama.
Warren broke a 78-yard kick return setting up the game’s final scoring drive capped by 6-foot-7 backup quarterback Cole Kelley’s quarterback sneak.
It was Warren’s only return, having fair caught the others.
Warren explained the fair catches automatically starting Arkansas at its 25.
“I have to understand Alabama kicks you high and puts a lot of air under the ball,” Warren said. “We've got to be smart about it and make sure the offense has great field position when they get on the field.”
The last one obviously set up for a return.
“Yeah, I got one pretty good return,”Warren said. “We blocked it well and coach said, 'We've got nothing to lose, come on let's get some motivation and return one.' We blocked it good as a team. It was good to be able to make an impact like that in the game even late like it was.”
Given the Hogs need to capitalize on what speed they do have on offense, and given the Ole Miss Rebels opposing Arkansas in Saturday night’s 6:30 SEC game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, it seems Warren should have a increasing role in the Razorbacks’ receivers rotation.
“Only the time of the game plan will tell,” Warren said. “I just try to play my role as the week goes on. Just be a 100-percent every practice. I’ll just continue to grind like I always have and always will and maybe hopefully I’ll move up.”
Given that Warren obviously seems recovered from the foot injury that caused him to miss games earlier in the season, his role increase seems likely.
“De’Vion is just really now back to full speed,” Morris said. “He’s such an electric return guy and does some really good things when we get the ball out on the edge to him. We need to continue to find ways to get him the ball.”
Play-calling offensive coordinator Joe Craddock knows the numbers to call now that Warren is fit to answer.
“Ever since the spring we’ve been very excited about De’Vion and the things that he brings to the table,” Craddock said. “Obviously, getting off the injury and missing a couple of games, we had to get him back in shape, make sure he knew what he was doing, get some reps in practice. We felt like this was a game to get him in there a little bit, see what he could do.”
The wheels seem turning now with Warren’s turning his wheels.
“I think he’s a guy we can build on,” Craddock said. “He’s that playmaker, a guy that can be deadly with the ball in his hands, and I think he’ll continue to get better as he goes.”
Warren was asked about playing a SEC game in Little Rock after last year playing only outmatched FCS Florida A&M there in a Thursday night game at War Memorial.
“I like playing anywhere, actually,” Warren said. “It’s football. You’ve got to love it. Wherever it’s played we could play in Alaska. Just being able to go out there and play.”
For senior nickel back Kevin Richardson, of nearby Jacksonville, playing Saturday night in Little Rock is significant.
Richardson was when Arkansas played its last SEC game at War Memorial losing 45-32 to Georgia in 2014.
Since then, in annual Little Rock appearances the Hogs lost, 16-12 to Toledo of the Mid-American Conference in 2015 and the last two years clobbered lower division sacrificial lambs Alcorn State, 52-10 and Florida A&M, 49-7.
“I’m really excited to go down there and see War Memorial under the lights again with a Razorback (SEC) game,” Richardson said. “It’s been forever.”
The Razorbacks held a completely closed practice Thursday afternoon and will fly today to Little Rock.
The Rebels bus today from Oxford, Mississippi.