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Warren comes back home to Tennessee

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The day Brandon Warren told his mother that he was going to Florida State, she cried.

Forgive Deidre Warren if she cries again on Monday night when Warren slips on his Tennessee jersey for the first time and represents the school his mother wanted him to go to all along when the Vols open the 2008 season against UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

"I finally got it right. It just took me a while," said Warren, the Vols' starting tight end and a big part of what first-year coordinator Dave Clawson wants to do on offense this season.

Warren's story is a complicated one. He grew up in Alcoa, Tenn., barely 10 minutes away from Neyland Stadium, and was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee his senior year of high school.

His mother wanted him to stay close by and attend Tennessee, but Warren's dream had always been to play for Florida State. He couldn't say no when Bobby Bowden came calling.

His freshman season at Florida State in 2006 was a successful one. He started nine games and led all FSU tight ends with 28 catches for 301 yards. His future as a Seminole was bright.

But back home in Alcoa, his mother was battling kidney cancer. Even though it would have been smarter for him to wait until the end of the semester, he packed his things and left Florida State in February of 2007 to be with his mother.

"I didn't really care about any of the [transfer] rules. I was coming home for a purpose, to be closer to my mom," Warren said. "That whole year was upside down. One weekend, my mom would be fine and come down and watch me play. The next week, she wouldn't be doing too good.

"That was hard for me. My mom has always been at all my football games. Call me a momma's boy all you want, but she's the most important person in my life."

Warren took a year off from football and enrolled at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. He also got a job putting on siding and gutters on houses.

"You talk about some hard work," Warren recalled. "It sure wasn't easy."

All the while, he was going through the process of transferring to Tennessee. It was anything but simple. Florida State wouldn't release him, and because he left in the middle of the semester and before he'd completed his first full year at FSU, he was faced with having to win a couple of appeals to be eligible at Tennessee this season.

It was an excruciating wait, and he didn't hear anything until he'd been practicing with the Vols for a couple of weeks. But finally, the NCAA notified Tennessee on Aug. 19 that Warren had been granted a hardship waiver and would be eligible to play this season.

"It seems like forever since I've played in a game," said Warren, who's a sophomore and has three years of eligibility remaining. "I just thank Tennessee and Coach [Phillip] Fulmer for taking me back. I know how disappointed he was when I went to Florida State the first time, being from right down the road and everything. It just shows what kind of man he is for giving me a chance to get it right."

Of course, there's not a school in the country who wouldn't have taken the 225-pound Warren. He runs as well as some receivers, is a nightmarish matchup for defenses and has already proven he can do it on a big stage.

"This is a tight end-oriented offense, and I'm comfortable with the things I'm doing," said Warren, who's playing a little fullback, splitting out wide occasionally and also lining up in the traditional tight end spot. "They give you a chance to stretch the field, and that's what I do best."

Jonathan Crompton, taking over as the Vols' starting quarterback, realized early on this summer what he had in Warren.

"The first day I threw to him, I was trying to test him out a little bit," Crompton said. "I was throwing some balls high and away from him. He made a catch in the corner of the end zone in the complex where he [dragged] his foot, turned 180 degrees and made a grab.

"I thought then, 'He's pretty good. He's going to be OK.'"

He's athletic enough that the Vols may also use him some at defensive end to rush the passer on obvious passing downs. He worked at defensive end last week.

Warren says his mother is doing better now and that her cancer is in remission. She's still monitored very closely and has regular checkups.

As the UCLA game has approached, he's undergone a touch of déjà vu. His first game at Florida State two years ago was also on Labor Day and was a primetime, nationally televised affair against Miami.

"I've done this before," Warren said. "Only this time, I'll be wearing the right uniform."