Even nice kids have haters, and eventually the careless whispers doing the rounds in Scottsdale, Ariz., football circles landed on Dave Sedmak’s desk, too. Great young man. Super family. Gets the ball every play.
“Some people said Kade caught a lot of balls his junior year because his dad was calling the plays,” Sedmak, the varsity football coach at Scottsdale Desert Mountain High, said of Kade Warner, his star receiver and the son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. “But you talk to the coaches who coached against him his senior year, (they said), ‘That didn’t even matter, this kid was really good.’ And guys had kind of disregarded his junior year because people were saying his dad was throwing him the ball all the time.
“I even had one coach say that they disregarded Kade in the game plan with that thought in mind and they paid a price for it afterward. They were kicking themselves because Kade burned them badly.”
Don’t trust the numbers?
Fine. Trust your eyes.
— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) September 16, 2016
Career catches in high school: 241, a prep record for the state of Arizona.
Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers: Zero. Zip. Nada.
“It’s surprising to me,” said Kade, a 6-foot-2 wideout who’s visiting Nebraska this weekend after the Cornhuskers dangled a preferred walk-on slot. “Especially because I know stats don’t tell the whole story. Just because of the productivity, not (just) me, but I’d imagine a couple guys on our team should get more looks than we have right now.”
Sedmak doesn’t think the Big Red could be on to an absolute steal. Hell, no. He’s dang-near certain of it. Sedmak coached former Ohio State standout Nate Clements and former Purdue and Youngstown State receiver Jameson Evans during their prep days at Shaker Heights, Ohio.
He’s seen hype. He’s seen the real thing. Warner is the latter.
“I know what the recruiters and coaches are looking for and, ironically, the thing they’re not looking for is, is he a great football player? The big guys, the fast guys, all that stuff. And they think they can teach them all that other stuff.
“He’s not small. He’s not slow. He’s amazing. He’s got great feet. He’s incredibly strong. He’s got great hands. He gets open. He does everything that they would want in the finished product. You would think somebody would be glad to have a guy like that.”
Don’t trust the platitudes?
Fine. Trust the tape.
— Desert Mountain FB (@DMWolvesFB) February 28, 2016
— Desert Mountain FB (@DMWolvesFB) February 28, 2016
‘I’d love to say I repeated his story’
Sedmak has heard the whispers from the college types. Not big enough to be an H-back. Not fast enough to beat guys on the perimeter. Total tweener.
And yet he’s seen the kid bench 245 pounds comfortably. Warner the younger touts a vertical in the 32-inch range, and runs a 40-yard dash in 4.6-ish.
“His legs are thick; he’s really, really strong in the midsection,” the coach said. “Even in the upper body, he’s got a strong core. That’s why he’s so hard to tackle.”
A football Warner gets labeled as too small or too slow to fit the mold, and … hang on. Haven’t we been down this road this before? Kurt a generation ago, Kade now.
“I’d love to say I repeated his story,” the younger Warner said of his father, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this month in celebration of a career that went from grocery store clerk and the Arena League to 12 NFL seasons, three Super Bowls and 208 touchdown passes.
“My dad had to go through the same things I did. It’s nice to have someone to look up to when I’m in this situation, obviously, the frustrations with not being as recruited as heavily as you want to. I’m blessed to have someone to go to.”
Dad preaches it because he lived it: Don’t let anyone define you but you. If the world won’t pay attention, give them a reason. A good reason.
“He tells me I can’t really focus on what people want me to be or people not looking at me and all the negative (stuff),” Kade said. “I’ve got to look at what I can do and focus on what I can do and just focus on my game and focus on myself.”
Dad also serves as Desert Mountain’s offensive coordinator. After 96 catches as a junior, Kade snared 83 passes this past fall. Sedmak said that the son earned those looks, that he was the kind of impact player who enhanced the scheme as opposed to siphoning receptions off it.
“I wouldn’t prefer learning the game from anybody else other than my dad,” Kade said. “He can be a coach at home or be ‘Dad’ at football. I’ll be sitting in my room, he’ll call me from his office and say, ‘Kade, come look at this route.’ It’s a good thing. I really enjoy it, because whenever I have a question, obviously, he’s the person to go to.”
‘He’s respected for how he is as a human being’
Like a priority free agent, the Cinderella Son of a Cinderella Father has options, and not one’s a stinker. The University of San Diego, which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, guaranteed a roster spot. But the temptation to rock the Pioneer League evaporated after Warner the younger attended the Iowa-Michigan game at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 12 and witnessed, firsthand, a 14-13 Hawkeyes victory and the cacophony of joy that followed.
“I got out (to San Diego) and decided, ‘Is this the kind of football I wanted?’ ” Warner recalled. “Then I went to the Iowa-Michigan game when Iowa knocked off Michigan, and it was a big contrast between the two games.”
Kade’s travelogue includes unofficial visits to UCLA and Iowa and an official trip to Arizona State, where coach Todd Graham also extended the carrot of preferred walk-on status.
The Sun Devils are close to home. The Hawkeyes are the No. 1 choice on Dad’s side of the family: Kurt played high-school ball at old Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Regis, roughly 35 minutes north of Kinnick.
“As a kid, whenever I saw Iowa play another team, I would root for Iowa because it’s where my parents are from and where my family’s from,” Kade said. “I wasn’t a huge fan of them.”
And, well, there you go. Iowa has family in its corner, but the Huskers have a pal in theirs: Nebraska graduate assistant Blair Tushaus, who coached defensive line at Desert Mountain in 2015.
“That’s kind of (been) sparking the conversation for a while now,” Kade said.
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) February 11, 2017
“I heard it’s a great program and a great stadium and a great fan base,” he said. “My uncle, he’s a huge Nebraska fan. He’s been imploring me to go there even before I starting playing (prep) ball. It’s a fun rivalry.”
It’s about the whole package, ultimately. Fit in the scheme. Opportunity. Teammates. Academics. If a cause touches his heart, Kade gives it his time and his soul. He mentors. He volunteers. He helps coach his little brother’s junior-high football team. The apple doesn’t fall far from the passing tree.
“He’s one of the most respected kids in the school and this isn’t what you would call a ‘football’ school, it’s not a ‘football factory,’ ” Sedmak said. “He’s respected for how he is as a human being.
“He’s very giving, he’s a great leader. He’s just got a higher character. He’s humble but confident. He definitely doesn’t brag. He’s not going to tell you he’s not good, but he’s not going to brag about how good he is.”
Besides, the play on the field usually does the talking for him. And in a few years, a handful of college coaches are probably going to be kicking themselves, too. Twice over.