By: Cliff Smelley, Telegraph Staff Writer July 01, 2004

Cleveland Browns player Gerard Warren hosts a football clinic for kids in the area.

He was a first-round NFL draft choice and is preparing to enter his fourth year as a starter on the defensive line for the Cleveland Browns, yet Gerard Warren, a 1997 Union County High School graduate, looks at Bennie Alexander and admits he's a little jealous.

Why? Because Alexander, a former teammate of Warren's at UCHS and the University of Florida, is an assistant coach at UCHS. Warren, who is also known as "Big Money," said coaching one day is something that interests him.

"I want to share the knowledge that was shared with me," he said.

Warren, the 25-year-old son of Charles and Joann Warren of Raiford, settled for sharing that knowledge during a football clinic on June 25 at Citizens Field in Gainesville. The clinic, which is being planned as an annual event, was attended by more than 50 youth ages 8-17.

"We had a fairly decent turnout and things went quite well aside from the Florida heat," Warren said.

The clinic was cut short because of how hot it was. Still, the youth who attended participated in basic football drills and interacted with Warren and other former UF players, including Andra Davis (a teammate of Warren's in Cleveland), Jabar Gaffney, Terry Jackson, Bobby McCray and Mike Nattiel. Some fun games and activities were also in the mix among the drills and the clinic concluded with an autograph-signing session.

Warren said the main thing he wanted to accomplish with the clinic was to allow kids to have a good time. He was satisfied to "see them go home with a smile on their face and know that they enjoyed themselves."

Warren has some free time now before reporting for the start of training camp on July 30. As he reflects back upon how he has changed from his rookie year in the NFL, Warren said he has become better at recognizing plays by an opposing team's offense throughout the course of a game as well as maturing both as a player and a person.

"The first year, to me, was like high school-just playing football and having fun," Warren said.

Cleveland was 7-9 during Warren's rookie season, then finished 9-8 in 2002 with a playoff berth. However, the Browns struggled last season, winning only five games.

The Browns' defense finished last season ranked 15th (out of 32 teams) in the league, allowing 309.9 yards per game. The defense allowed 14 points or less in eight games, yet the team's offense averaged only 15.9 points per game and finished ranked 26th in the league. Cleveland hopes to upgrade its offense with the addition of such players as quarterback Jeff Garcia (free agent from San Francisco) and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (first-round draft choice out of the University of Miami).

Still, there is some pressure on the defense to improve. The team will enter the season with four first-round draft choices, including Warren, on the defensive line. Warren said the defense just needs to become a cohesive unit, but he added, with a sound of frustration in his voice, that is hard to accomplish in the NFL nowadays.

"Free agency breaks down a team's chemistry," he said. "Every year brings in somebody new."

Warren said he is optimistic about his team's chances with the additions through free agency and the draft. He likens the Browns to the Union County Tigers after the 1996 season-desperately wanting to get back to the state championship game. The Tigers, following three consecutive berths in the state finals, went seven years before making it back to the championship game.

Cleveland, like those UCHS teams during that span, is hungry for a shot at a title.

"That's the spirit of the team right now," Warren said.

For his part, Warren just wants to play his best and make the people of Union County proud of him. One can detect the love Warren has for Union County in his voice. He especially has fond memories of playing football at Union County High School and for former head coach Robby Pruitt.

Pruitt helped him as much as anybody to play in the NFL, Warren said. Work ethic, determination, focus, integrity, character-Warren said he learned it all from Pruitt.

Warren said he has had a great relationship with all of his coaches over the years. Bradford High School assistant coach Steve Hoard, who was Warren's position coach at UCHS and who gave him the nickname "Big Money," was like a brother to him, Warren said. In fact, Hoard and every other coach he's had (including his current coaches) have shown care for Warren not just as a player, but as a human being.

"All of my coaches have been great," Warren said.

Union County head coach Buddy Nobles was the defensive coordinator at UCHS when Warren played there. Nobles watched Warren terrorize opposing teams' quarterbacks, but should Nobles be watching his own back now? Warren said he'd love to return to UCHS one day and become the head football coach.

"He better keep an eye on me," Warren said of Nobles.

You can almost hear Warren chuckling to himself when he says this, knowing that he really doesn't want to take a job at Nobles' expense. Yet in the same breath, Warren sounds serious about becoming a coach one day. When that day will come, if it comes, is uncertain, but Warren knows his playing days won't last forever. He knows his career could end the next time he steps onto the field.

"I tell people I'm one play away from never playing again," he said.

Fortunately, Warren has not sustained any major injuries during his career. Warren, who was the third overall choice in the 2001 draft, has appeared in 47 games with the Browns, starting all but one. He has 130 (109 solo) tackles and 12.5 quarterback sacks during his career.

Last season, Warren had 32 tackles, 25 of which were solo. He was second on the team with a career-best 5.5 sacks.

The Cleveland Browns start the 2004 season on Sunday, Sept. 12, when they host Baltimore.