MAHOMET — Movement is integral on the soccer field. High school coaches regularly shout this to their athletes, reminding them to shift not only the ball, but also their feet.
Mahomet-Seymour junior Eli Warren is a little different.
“He’s actually more of a relaxed, stand (still player), and usually as a defender you want guys to be standing up,” Bulldogs coach Jeremy Davis said. “But he often kind of lulls defenders into being a little bit (at ease) because he’s so agile, and he’s got such quick ball skills with his feet to get them standing and then drive on them.”
Warren’s unorthodox approach to the striker position is paying dividends for M-S (15-4-4), which earned the No. 3 seed in the Class 2A Urbana Regional and opens the postseason with Tuesday’s 7 p.m. semifinal versus No. 6 Danville (6-14-1) at McKinley Field in Urbana.
“It’s just experience, and the more I play, the more I know what my defender’s going to do,” said Warren, who believes a few years playing with older kids in club soccer has aided his progress. “I just like to slow them down and just use my speed to go past them.”
The results thus far: 22 goals and 20 assists for Warren, who boasted just two tallies as a sophomore.
The Bulldogs graduated eight starters in the most recent offseason, however, including News-Gazette All-Area first-team selection Austin Carr.
That meant guys like Warren and seniors Jake Janda (25 goals) and Kadyn Jones (17 goals) would be required to produce greater offensive outputs.
The latter two seniors saw a little more varsity field time in 2018 than Warren did, making Warren’s current season feel like more of a breakout performance.
“I thought he’d be good. I didn’t think he’d be one of the best players in the area,” Davis said. “I could (think) hindsight and say maybe he deserved more time (sooner).”
Warren didn’t complain about a lesser role last season, having two more years of M-S soccer in front of him.
He just jumped into the weight room and stuck to his playing style.
“I don’t know if I thought I was going to do this much,” Warren said, “but I definitely knew I could do more than I did last year.”
Nailing down Warren’s specific match of the year candidate isn’t easy for Davis. Perhaps a September win over Danville, in which Warren compiled two goals and four assists in an eight-minute stretch.
Warren leans toward a bout earlier this month. He scored two goals as the Bulldogs tied rival Mt. Zion on the road.
No matter the opponent, Warren is accustomed to looking for certain teammates in scoring situations.
“Most of my goals came from Nate Lundstrom just passing through-balls to me, and connecting with Kadyn and Logan (Woodward),” Warren said. “Working together, I feel like, works the best instead of trying to take them one on one.”
That’s exactly what Davis seeks to emphasize in M-S’s upcoming postseason slate as the Bulldogs are vying for their first regional championship since 2015.
“Last couple years through Austin have been pretty one-dimensional,” Davis said. “That’ll definitely be something we look to do is make sure that teams can’t focus on one, but have to worry about both or three.”
M-S also has gotten away from Mattoon, which has eliminated the Bulldogs from a regional final each of the last three seasons.
Davis’ crew instead is likely to contend with No. 2 Urbana (10-4-2), which topped M-S 4-1 in September, or No. 7 Rantoul if the Eagles can upset the Tigers in Tuesday’s first regional semifinal match at 5 p.m.
“It should be a tough postseason,” Warren said. “I definitely think a lot of people didn’t think we were going to be as good as we are, but ... everything came together and worked out.”