Husker walk-on receiver Warner earned a starting spot, now he’s aiming to keep it
The closest Kade Warner ever really came to playing quarterback was when he was a young kid.
You can’t blame a dad for thinking his son maybe has a pretty good arm. Especially when that dad threw for more than 32,000 yards and 208 touchdowns over a dozen NFL seasons and has a bust at the league’s Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
But every time Kurt Warner prodded his son to take snaps, it ended quickly.
“After a couple balls I’d move right back … I was a center at the time, so that was the closest I got to quarterback,” Kade Warner recalled Tuesday.
He’s no longer a center, either, but that’s OK.
Wide receiver seems to be working out just fine.
Warner, a Nebraska redshirt freshman walk-on, rocketed up the depth chart and made his first career start against Purdue last week, then found himself on the top line alongside Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman this week.
“We saw that in spring ball and even in walk-throughs before spring ball that everybody is going to get reps, and if you can play, you’re going to be out there playing,” Warner told a throng of reporters. “So from the very start, what they were preaching and what they were showing out there, everybody knew that they could play here. … It’s just a matter of when they will.”
Warner’s time is now.
He played extensively in the Huskers’ 42-28 loss to the Boilermakers on Saturday. Early on, he made his presence known blocking on the perimeter. On NU’s final drive of the first half, quarterback Adrian Martinez targeted him three straight times, leading to Warner’s two catches for 16 yards.
Martinez on Monday called Warner “Mr. Consistent,” and head coach Scott Frost said, “he plays as hard as he can and he’s where he’s supposed to be.”
Frost added, “You want to see a mark of a good team, find a team where wide receivers block well. Because then 4-yard gains turn into 8 and 8-yard gains turn into 40.”
Warner put up big numbers at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Arizona, setting the state’s 11-man football record with 241 career catches, including 179 for 2,204 yards and 32 touchdowns over his final two years, but was lightly recruited.
“That’s a good question,” the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder responded when asked why he didn’t attract more attention with good numbers at a big school. “I wish I knew the answer to it. It probably has to do with my speed a little bit. I’m sure that has a little bit to do with it.
“I don’t know why I didn’t get offers, but I’m here now and I love it, here so it all worked out.”
He planned to walk on at Arizona State — “hometown, 15 minutes from my house,” he said — before former Desert Mountain assistant coach-turned Nebraska graduate assistant Blair Tushaus convinced him to visit Lincoln in 2016.
He came to NU but suffered an injury his first year on campus, then made some noise this spring, hauling in a 57-yard touchdown late in April’s Red-White spring game. He stayed consistent through the summer and first month of the season. Now he’s a starter.
“A lot of the walk-ons are ballers in high school and they just have to get their chance to show it,” said Warner, who patterns his game after Arizona Cardinals great and family friend Larry Fitzgerald. “Being under-recruited in high school, you feel like you can play at the next level and it’s just kind of hard because you don’t feel like anybody else thinks you can.”
He didn’t find out he was squarely in the game plan until shortly before Saturday, saying last week, “started out same as normal,” until a couple of guys nursing injuries missed some time and he stepped in.
“I made some plays and (Walters) liked me and I was told Thursday or Friday that I got the nod and that I was either going to start or play a good amount,” he said
His parents got travel arrangements figured out and found a hotel room on short notice and were in attendance to watch their son’s debut.
Sometimes opportunities spring up fast when a team is struggling and a coaching staff isn’t afraid to make changes.