LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Kade Warner had a pretty good role model when it came to learning patience and perseverance.
The son of Kurt Warner, whose rise from humble beginnings to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is well documented, was a star receiver in high school in suburban Phoenix but attracted no serious recruiting attention.
He walked on to Nebraska at the invitation of the previous staff last year, broke his hand three days into fall practice and sat out as a redshirt. After Mike Riley was fired and Scott Frost was hired, Kade stewed over what role, if any, there would be in a fast-paced offense for a wide receiver who admittedly is not fleet of foot.
Kade need not worry anymore. He found out late last week he would start against Purdue, and this week he’s listed No. 1 on the depth chart for the game at No. 16 Wisconsin on Saturday night.
The next step, he said, is to create his own identity.
“There are some perks,” Kade said of his last name, “but obviously on everything you see I’ll always be Kurt Warner’s son. There’s a chip on my shoulder trying to get that part of my name not erased, but so I’m just Kade Warner. He’s a vital part of me getting here. I’ve got to respect that, and I wouldn’t be here without him.”
Adrian Martinez targeted Kade Warner four times, three in a row, in the 42-28 loss to Purdue. He caught back-to-back short passes late in the first half before getting overthrown. Martinez missed him badly with a ball in the third quarter.
“He is ‘Mr. Consistent.’ I think if you would have asked us about him back in spring ball we would say that he’s a guy that knows what he’s doing, a guy that we can count on out there,” Martinez said. “I can rely on him to catch the ball, to run the right route, to block his guy.”
Warner’s best attributes are his hands and toughness. Asked how many seconds it takes for him to run the 40-yard dash, he said: “I told the team 4.5 and they all laughed at me. I’m not a 4.5. I’m fast enough. I’ll say that.”
Warner’s back story isn’t as dramatic as his father’s, but it’s similar. Kurt didn’t get drafted after playing quarterback for Northern Iowa, so he spent time in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before signing with the St. Louis Rams in 1998. He played in three Super Bowls with two franchises, won one of them, was voted NFL MVP twice and Super Bowl MVP once.
Kade said his dad throws to him when he’s back home in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he catches balls for quarterbacks his dad trains.
Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is Kade’s idol. Fitzgerald was Kurt Warner’s teammate and is a close friend of the Warner family, and he’s glad to give Kade drills and pointers.
“I try to model my game after him because of how well he uses his body and his hands, and his work ethic,” Kade said. “He’s best in the game at looking over his shoulder, going up and grabbing it or making great catches. He’s been a big help.”
Warner’s 241 career catches for Desert Mountain High are an Arizona 11-man football record, and the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was a two-time all-state selection.
His initial thought was to walk on at nearby Arizona State. That plan changed after he visited Nebraska at the request of Blair Tushaus, a former Desert Mountain assistant who was a graduate assistant for Riley.
“I loved the last coaching staff, the environment, the fans, the stadium, everything,” Kade said. “I love the Big Ten environment a lot. It’s their pro football. All that, a culmination, I loved it and wanted to come here and have loved it ever since.”