Former Badger Warren Herring talks football, faith, and the future

Photo from Warren Herring II.
Warren Herring II has done a lot of growing up in his 24 years of life.

Like all children, he grew up in normal stages of highs and lows with the difficulties and triumphs of elementary, middle and high school. He grew in his love of football and knowledge of the game. He grew up in his coordination on the field, and he grew into the body of a football player. He grew into the high school football player ESPN called the third-best defensive end in Illinois in 2009. He grew into a Wisconsin Badger and an Atlanta Falcon. But, most importantly, Warren Herring II grew into a man grounded in his beliefs and firm in his actions.

From professional football player to young business professional, Herring has played the game of football and the game of life with the constant motivation to succeed and the willingness to share his experiences with others.

Herring grew up in Fairview Heights, IL to a family of athletes. Both of Herring’s parents attended Southeastern Missouri State University. His father played college football, and his mother ran track. From the early age of 6 or 7, Herring knew he wanted to play football.

“All the men in my family excelled in sports, and most played football in college at some point, so it was a motivation for me,” Herring said. “I knew I wanted to play college football about my 8th grade year when I started to grow more and become a lot more athletic. I knew the odds of making it into college football weren’t the best for everyone, so I made it a priority to be one of the best at my position and work as hard as I could.”

At Belleville East High School in southwest Illinois, Herring played on both sides of the ball as a tight end and defensive end for his high school team, the Lancers. According to Madison.com, in his high school career, Herring made 168 tackles and 23 sacks as a defensive end and caught 32 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns as a tight end.

After being named all-state during his senior year of high school, Herring became a sought after defensive player for collegiate football teams. He originally committed to Kansas State before changing to the University of Wisconsin.

“Madison stole my heart,” Herring said of his decision to change his decision of where to play collegiate football. “Great sports tradition, great teammates, great friends, and it was close enough to home where my family could travel a lot to watch.”

The ultimate deciding factor for Herring, however, was one instilled in him from his parents.

“The biggest thing was education. My parents always stressed how important it was to get a degree, and having one from UW speaks volumes.”

Herring committed to the University of Wisconsin on July 29, 2009. He played five years as nose guard and defensive end at UW under the leadership of three different coaches in Bret Bielema, Barry Alvarez as interim head coach and Gary Andersen. In his time as a Badger, Herring went to three Rose Bowls, the Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl. He played in 44 games with 56 career tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Herring’s expectations of playing for Wisconsin were, as expected, very high.

“They’re a well-known team who has established themselves as a dominant team in the NCAA,” Herring said. “But the real life experience went above and beyond. There is a reason we set ourselves apart from other schools in such a positive way, and that’s because we are the hardest working program in the country.”

Herring continued, “We bring in some of the best athletes regardless of what the recruiting rankings say. I would bet on that.”

In his time as a Wisconsin Badger, Herring experienced the pride in a successful football team and the struggles in personal injury. During his senior year, Herring tore his MCL in the 2nd half of the LSU game.

As a testament to his character, Herring said, however, that the injury, though hindering to his football career, was a blessing to him in other aspects of his life.

“It gave me the opportunity to help my teammates grow from the sideline, meet my wonderful and amazing girlfriend who was a soccer player for UW at the time and, most importantly, have some individual time with God and grow closer to Him in my faith.”

Herring is very proud to discuss his Christian faith and describes it as one of the biggest positives during his time at UW, Herring was involved with BadgerLife, what he describes as an “on-campus community for athletes that want to grow in their faith.”

Following his five years playing for the Badgers, Herring worked in pursuit of a career in the NFL. He had what many considered an impressive Wisconsin Pro Day on March 11, 2015. According to Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway, Herring recorded “a 35-inch vertical leap, a 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump, a 1.7-second 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash and 28 reps on the bench press.”

Of his Pro Day, Herring said, “It was thrilling to see of the teams that came to watch all of us perform. It was like an energy boost, and I had to make myself even more known to the scouts watching.”

Despite Herring’s impressive performance, he was not drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft. What Herring describes as a mixture of emotions played out following the draft as he was signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent.

“I worked my butt of to get to the point I was at and to not get drafted hurt a lot,” Herring said. “But I was also very excited that a team, regardless of who it was, took a chance on me.”

Though Herring’s time with the Falcons was limited, he described his time in the NFL as nothing but rewarding and a clear blessing.

“Playing professional football has always been a dream of mine since I was a child, and to have had that opportunity and play on that level was a great experience and a blessing,” Herring said. “How many guys can say they shared a locker room with NFL greats like Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux, among others.”

Herring returned to Madison this year to work with Frito Lay as a district sales lead, a job he described as exactly what he would have wanted to do following professional football. Though Herring currently does not see a return to football as a player or coach, he did stress his willingness to help out his former team if the Badger defensive line ever reached out for his advice.

Herring maintains his focus of building his faith, sustaining his relationships with others and succeeding in his professional life. 

He aspires to become regional vice president of Frito Lay, a goal which he said “is going to be challenging, but for those who know me know that I’m always up for a challenge and never back down.”

Photo Credit: Warren Herring II.

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