Sep. 23—During his second year at Fresno State, Colby Warkentin, a redshirt freshman defensive end out of Centennial High School, decided he didn't fit well with the defensive coaching staff under new head coach Kalen DeBoer. After the season ended, Warkentin announced on Dec. 26 that he was seeking a new school.
As it turned out, he chose a uniquely chaotic time to transfer, because for many of the programs targeting him, the season was just beginning. A variety of schools in the Football Championship Subdivision, a level below Fresno State, had opted to postpone their season until the spring semester due to COVID-19 concerns, with games beginning as soon as Feb. 13.
"It was a madhouse," Warkentin said. "I would be having coaches call me, wanting me to get there — when I first got into the (transfer) portal I had multiple schools wanting me to come on campus in the next week or two because of that short season that was happening."
Warkentin was determined to avoid making the wrong choice and having to endure the process again a semester or a year later. So he waited. At the end of the spring, he found the right fit: Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, which he said is about as distinct from California as it gets. He announced his commitment June 18, and the season started Sept. 4.
"I'm kind of adjusting to everything really well over here," he said, "but I'm obviously missing California, too, at the same time."
The 2020 Academic All-Mountain West honoree said the school's high-level business management program appealed to him. And he's quickly building relationships on his new team.
"My advice is always just to be patient, show them that you're there to work and want to understand what's going on," said Chad Brown, Warkentin's former coach at Centennial, who texts with him regularly, "and if it's not exactly how you imagined at the beginning, just keep your head down, keep grinding and keep working, and show why they should put you on the field."
It's the third defense Warkentin's had to learn in three years, but he's a better player than he was the last two times: During his intervening months in Bakersfield, waiting to transfer, Warkentin rehabbed some minor injuries and back problems. And he trained with Anthony "AJ" Orange, a Bakersfield native and longtime NFL and CFL cornerback currently working as a trainer at A3 Sports Performance.
Orange, back in Bakersfield due to the pandemic, was working with some defensive backs at Bakersfield College. One of them brought Warkentin along to work out one day, and Orange took on Warkentin as a trainee, drawn to his work ethic and versatile athleticism.
"Colby's a very, very dedicated hard worker," Orange said, "and those are the kind of guys that I open the gym to, the kind of guys that I want to spend my time with, because they're not going to waste my time."
Warkentin and Orange agreed that despite their discrete positions on the field, Warkentin stood to gain a lot in terms of footwork and pass-rush ability from doing drills traditionally intended for defensive backs.
Orange saw his new 6-foot-6, 245-pound pupil as a "hybrid guy" who could also play tight end — as he did in high school — or linebacker: "He wants to be that guy that has so much value that they have to put him all over the field."
Already, he's happy just to have seen the field at all. Warkentin recorded his first collegiate stat, a quarterback hit against Division III Louisiana College, on Sept. 11.
"It was about two years now since I (had) been on the field," he said, "other than scrimmages and stuff like that."
He has a lot to learn at ACU and a long road to fulfilling the potential he showed at Centennial. Brown said he's confident in his former player's ability to adjust in adverse conditions.
"He did when he was on our campus," Brown said. "He did if we were faced with a tough opponent or a tough spot in a game, or (when) he was a little bit hurt going into things, he always had a good attitude."
Warkentin hopes to improve his speed and quickness as a pass rusher. Orange said he needs to get more flexible in order to fill any kind of hybrid role. Ultimately, Orange has high hopes for Warkentin's future at ACU and beyond.
"If he can just expand upon the things that he already has, there's no ceiling for him," Orange said. "He can go as far as he wants to go."
Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.