Born with a heart defect that caused him two heart attacks before his 36th birthday, Derrick Warford wants to spread wellness among the youth – physically, mentally and behaviorally. IF YOU GO
What: AZEA Wellness Tour
When: June 24, 9 a.m-6 p.m.
Where: Ram Stadium, Maricopa High School, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: Event is free; 7-on-7 Passing Tournament $175 per team
IF YOU GO
A social services technician and one-time professional football player, Warford is an assistant football coach at Maricopa High School and heads AZ Elite Athletics Wellness Services (AZEA) to provide training and resources for school-age athletes.
“I’ve always been training athletes,” he said.
Wellness is usually top of mind for him personally. He has known since he was a child his condition would get chancy as he got older. He never let the issue keep him away from athletics or his mission to prepare kids for life.
This month, AZEA is hosting a “Wellness Tour” at Maricopa High School’s Ram Stadium. Warford said the expo is focused on mindfulness and wellness. Whether teen players come to him to find a way to use athletics to gain an education or a career or just physical discipline, he wants them to learn young the consequences of decisions they make.
The June 24 event is planned to have four major components. A “Wellness Fest” and community market will have community businesses, vendors, organizations and clubs along with artists and musicians providing resources. A “Youth Engagement Zone” is an active area with games, bounce houses, arts and crafts, raffles and special guests. The free Athletic Skills Camp is for boys and girls age 8-12 who want a try at circuit training, speed drills and a combine course.
A main draw is a “Prove It” 7-on-7 football passing tournament and team combine, featuring varsity and junior varsity players from Maricopa and surrounding communities. Team entry is $175.
Warford said proceeds will benefit Be Awesome Youth Coalition, The Streets Don’t Love You Back, Maricopa Rams and Hope for Kids.
He likes to instill “the power of athletic thoughts” through constant repetition and self-awareness. When a student quits or rages or makes another bad decision, he walks them through the process of evaluating their own reaction.
“I say, ‘Ask yourself what was your trigger. What was that moment?’” he said.
A native of Macon, Georgia, Warford played football at Alabama State University. Undrafted after graduation, he signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2006. A preseason knee injury hastened his departure from the pro ranks.
He moved to Arizona in 2008. Soured a bit on football, he worked with at-risk youth in his social services capacity. He started AZEA in 2009, building more relationships with youths and Valley coaches. Warford got married and moved to Maricopa the same year, 2014. When he heard MHS was looking for volunteers in its basketball program, he reached out, flirting with the idea of coaching the freshmen.
That position was already filled, however.
“But they knew about my football background, and [Athletic Director Mark] Cisterna caught me on a good day and asked me about the football team,” Warford said.
“He kind of fell into our laps,” said Rams head coach Chris McDonald, who brought him in as a defensive line coach.”
Warford said it didn’t take long for the football “bug” to take hold again. “The freshmen bought into me because of the NFL thing,” he said.
At the end of the year, McDonald sat him down and offered him the job of defensive coordinator.
“He’s very demanding but respectful,” McDonald said. “He’s really good with the kids.”
Warford and his wife Raven both deal with medical challenges, he with his heart and she with epilepsy. Never again wanting to have to drive himself to the hospital in the middle of a heart attack, he worked to lose weight and control his blood pressure. The goal-setting he preaches to the kids is still getting a workout in his own life.
This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.