SIOUX CITY | There is a perpetual smile on Warren Joiner’s face and a particular bounce when he defends wide receivers.
Perhaps the joyful jump of the Sioux City Stampede’s shut-down cornerback triggered his career-high three interceptions in Saturday night’s 34-12 win over the Fargo Invaders during Northern Elite Football League semifinal action at Memorial Field.
Straddling step by step with Jon Baume, the league’s top regular-season receiver (39 catches, 743 yards, 13 touchdowns), the NEFL’s best cornerback (11 interceptions, 2 INT TDs) timed it perfectly. Joiner leaped higher than Baume for two of those pickoffs.
“When the ball’s up in the air, I’m saying it’s mine. That’s all I think about,” said Joiner, part of a talented defense that will show its strengths this Saturday when the defending NEFL champion Minneapolis Warriors face the Stampede in Elite Bowl XI at Memorial Field.
“In high school (Sioux City West) and in junior college (Iowa Western Community College), I played receiver. It helps out a lot, knowing route combinations, playing on that side of the ball. I get into certain spots and I know they can only run so many routes. It makes the game 10 times easier. That and watching film. You see it on film, then when you see it in real life, it’s about reacting.”
Joiner has 18 interceptions and five defensive touchdowns in two seasons for Coach Jason Garnand’s Stampede. Five of his INTs this season came against Fargo as both he and defensive back Mike Trobaugh each recorded two thefts in an earlier-season 23-15 win at Memorial.
Joiner has at least one interception in each of his last four games. During that streak, he had 2-interception, 1-INT TD efforts in a 34-12 win over the Med City Freeze and in a 15-14 loss to the St. Paul Pioneers.
The way Garnand looks at it, Joiner is a candidate for the NEFL’s defensive player of the year.
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“Warren Joiner was a wide receiver when he first started with us,” said Garnand. “His talent was able to be showcased not only on offense, but when we needed help on defense, he moved to the defensive side of the ball and he did fabulous. He just felt so natural.
“This year with the way that he has played and the way he shut down the best receiver in the league, goes to show a long way for him. Warren Joiner is a possible defensive player of the year. When you’re a corner, you have to have confidence. He’s a confident kid. He’s humble. He doesn’t think anybody can beat him. He works hard on film. He makes every practice. He works hard. He has big-play capability. He has done great.”
Joiner is part of a great defense that has recorded 23 interceptions, a total that includes six from defensive back Robert Lewis and three apiece from Trobaugh and defensive back Titus Bland. This defense has also turned in 31 quarterback sacks and eight fumble recoveries.
Interestingly, the only NEFL game this season where Joiner didn’t have an interception came against Minneapolis. However, during that 12-7 victory at Memorial, he forced a fumble as he tagged Warrior receiver Rasheme Sharp from behind.
Sharp had initially battled a pair of Stampede defenders and then breezed for a 57-yard play before Joiner chopped the ball out of his grasp. Lewis recovered the fumble at Sioux City’s 9-yard line, saving a touchdown.
It will be the second championship game appearance for Joiner, who was part of last year’s 10-0 team that defeated the Des Moines Blaze to win last year’s Midwest Football Alliance championship. According to Garnand, 90 percent of this year’s team played for that squad.
A lot of them, just like Joiner, are having fun while they play. Squad members high-fived the fans meeting them at the bottom of the bleachers along the fence at Memorial.
“Hey, I just like being out there with my fellas and my bros having fun,” smiled Joiner. “That’s the main thing. Football is good, but having fun, that’s the main part, dancing and enjoying the crowd. I thank everybody for coming out. It’s just fun, Man. I like having fun.”