CANTON — St. Lawrence University offensive lineman Max Warden, who is 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds with a bushy black beard, barely resembles the youngster who played quarterback for the Potsdam High School football team just a few years ago.
Warden, who is a junior, played tight end and quarterback at Potsdam, then spent time at the Salisbury (Conn.) Prep School before arriving at St. Lawrence two years ago, where he found a home as an offensive lineman after a brief stint at tight end.
He made second team All-Liberty League on the line last year.
“We saw how well he blocked and how big and strong and athletic he is,” Saints football coach Dan Puckhaber said. “Last year we put him in at left tackle and everyone’s read the book, “The Blind Side,” and you know how important that position is. This year will be his second year playing offensive line and we are already starting to see the difference right now.”
Warden impressed the Saints staff not only with his strength and blocking ability but his versatility.
“He’s an athlete. We threw him a pass last year,” Puckhaber said. “He’s a guy that can do that. You look at him and you’d never know he is 300 pounds. He is one of our biggest, strongest, most athletic kids that we have. He also is starting to put it together as an offensive lineman, at knowing how to play offensive line.”
Warden may have spent two years away from the area before college, but he always planned to return.
“I already knew all about St. Lawrence,” Warden said. “I did a few visits. I went to Union, Hobart and different Liberty League teams and liked what they had. St. Lawrence is right by home. I knew St. Lawrence was always in my back pocket, this is where I’d like to go. When I was younger I saw a ton (of games). As I got older, I didn’t see as many.”
Puckhaber knew about Warden, but didn’t see him play much in high school because Potsdam’s game times often conflicted with SLU games.
“When we were in the recruiting process, he was a guy I knew I always wanted,” Puckhaber said. “He was a big, strong athlete, which you want to have on a football team.”
Like many college freshmen, Warden worked his way up, starting out with SLU’s scout team before seeing playing time in his freshman season, also learning how to play offensive line in the process.
“Quarterback to line is a weird transition, but it helps you have insight on everything,” Warden said. “You understand a quarterback thinks along certain lines and you kind of know that, but you have to think about it as a lineman. It helps your perspective, getting a more full view of the game.”
Warden’s past as a skill player is something that still pays dividends.
“I think as a team we were the least penalized team in the league last year and for him, even playing out of position, he doesn’t get those holding calls, because he’s so athletic he’s never far out of position,” Puckhaber said. “Even if he does get beat, he’s athletic enough to recover or not have to hold.”
Warden has grown to love life as a lineman, even if his name doesn’t show up in box scores very often.
“I like being physical,” Warden said. “It’s a lot of high-speed, physical contact and I like that. Pass blocking is like somewhat of a chess game with the guy you are going against. You watch film on him all week. You get out there and you have to know what he wants to do in certain situations, then you go at it.”
Warden’s job includes thinking about his team’s offense, too.
“This year one of our goals is to be able to run the ball better,” he said. “The offensive line doesn’t have any stats, but we love when the running back has a 100-yard game or we keep the quarterback clean. Stuff like that is what we look at. They are great quarterbacks, if we give them time they will do their thing all day.”
Warden displays a friendly personality but he’s also learning to toughen his persona when it comes time for games.
“I want him to realize that he’s the biggest, strongest athlete on the field,” Puckhaber said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a popular term in today’s world, but I want him to be a bully left tackle, because he can be one. He’s a grown-ass man. He’s a guy who gets it, a mature kid. This will be his junior year but because he had that (post graduate) year, he’s the same age as my seniors. He has some life experience. He’s been through some things in life already that have matured him at a young age. I look at what this year can be for him, and he can be the best offensive lineman in the league.”