Kade Warner is a man of the people, it seems.
“Trust me, I don’t think it looks good, I just think it’s funny,” the fourth-year junior wideout said this week of his old-timey, curled on the sides, handlebar mustache. “I just wear it because it gets a little laugh from people here and there.”
When fall camp begins each year, Warner, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound walk-on-turned-scholarship guy from Arizona, starts growing out the stache. In a normal year, that would afford the facial hair above his top lip about a month to grow. In this weird, stop-and-start offseason, it’s allowed that thing to flourish.
“I’ll probably cut it the first game, but I’m getting some people from the team telling me, ‘No, keep it, keep it,’” he said. "We’ll see.”
The stache now has its own Twitter account, and it received some pretty positive reviews after Thursday’s unveiling, so there may be a few more people in the Team Stache camp now. Keep it, Kade. It’s distinguishable.
Not that Warner needs help standing out, he’s already the teammate everyone comes to.
“Kade Warner’s leadership has been unmatched in the receiving corps,” said Austin Allen, a junior tight end and roommate of Warner’s. “That’s helped these new receivers that are new to the program get a lot better.”
So far, Warner has been one of the “winners” of fall camp. His teammates talk about him early and often when asked who stands out in the wideout room. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick talks glowingly of his leadership ability. Head coach Scott Frost appreciates that after fighting injuries and setbacks the last few years, Warner has been able to be a constant this camp.
“The best thing he’s done is he’s been out there the entire time,” Frost said earlier in the week. “I don’t think he’s missed any time. If you’re gonna play, you gotta be on the field, and he’s been out there the entire time. … Kade’s done a wonderful job for us.”
Warner sustained a bone fracture in his hand early on in fall camp in 2017. He redshirted that year. He came on strong down the stretch in 2018, starting seven of the final nine games after missing the first three. Then, Warner revealed this week, he tore his hamstring last season. It caused him to miss the first four games and limited him to five starts.
His 25 career catches still rank second amongst Husker wideouts on the roster, though. In terms of experience, Warner’s older than almost anyone in the room.
“I think first and foremost, I know the plays,” he said of why he’s been able to showcase a bit more this camp. “I know what I’m doing. I think that helps, especially with the young wide receiver room we have. A lot of guys are learning the plays, were on scout team last year, aren’t familiar with it, so I think me knowing the playbook immediately and being thrust into that leadership role when everybody left was a big part of it.”
Nebraska saw departures, either because of transfer or graduation, from JD Spielman, Kanawai Noa, Mike Williams, and Jaron Woodyard this offseason. With only he and Wan’Dale Robinson left as guys with any real experience in the system, you could say a leadership role was thrust onto his plate, but Warner felt it was much more of a natural progression.
“I think with a leader you also have to be a teacher,” he said. “With me knowing the offense and being able to teach guys, they look to me as a leader already, and I think I’ve done a good job just trickling down what Coach Lubick says to me to all the rest of the guys.”
There are questions you can ask a teammate that you won’t ask a coach, Warner says. So he’s all ears.
“I always tell those guys, 'Hey, they are going to respond more to you than they do to me,’” Lubick said. “So, they (Warner and Robinson) are the first out in every drill. When a young guy like Zavier Betts sees Kade Warner going 100 miles an hour … that's contagious.”
Warner talks about route depth and timing like he’s already a coach. He talks about blocking like a coach. If you heard what Lubick’s instruction sounded like in practice, you might think it was Lubick talking through Warner when the wideout sits down at the podium.
“I think the first thing in order to block is just a want-to,” he says. “You’ve got to go out there and you can’t be afraid to get run over to miss your block. It’s a want-to. It’s the ability to go out there and say, ‘I’m going to block this guy and he’s not going to make the play.’ … I think the wide receivers we have this year want to.”
Not being afraid to fail has been a key point stressed to the wideouts this offseason. It’s a Nebraska mantra, but Warner talks of something of a culture reset in the wideout room being led by Lubick, Robinson, and himself.
“With Lubick here it’s kind of a blank slate,” Warner said. “I think with a blank slate comes more confidence. I think I’m able to play with more confidence on the field, and I think a lot of guys are.”
The new guy hasn’t seen you, hasn’t formed an opinion on you, and is approaching everything with an open mind. You can, in essence, be who you want.
Warner, it turns out, is going to be a key piece of this wideout room.
He’s now on scholarship, Allen let slip.
(Frost is getting his ducks in a row before announcing every scholarship they’ve awarded to walk-ons so far, he says. That announcement is expected to come this upcoming week.)
There seems to be a level of depth (at least on paper) in the wideout room that hasn’t been present in some time. Nebraska has options and diversity among those options. What exactly Warner’s role on game days will be might not reveal itself until Nebraska takes the field Oct. 24.
If he’s a starter and a regular snap-getter, he will have earned that role and then some. If a guy like Zavier Betts makes a last-minute push, or Omar Manning and Alante Brown secure the two non-Robinson spots in the starting lineup, Warner has still made clear he’s a valuable piece.
He’s been a valuable piece.
It’s possible he got guys like Brown more prepared to take his spot.
“There’s some stuff we can go over in film, but we only have a certain amount of time allotted per week to go over different things,” Warner said. “So I kind of just hit up all the receivers and said, ‘Hey, I am free any day, I am bored, I just play video games all day, use my free time please. I’m tired of doing this. Use my free time. Come over during games, I can bring snacks, I’ll bring a whiteboard and I’ll just explain plays.’”
When the NFL got its season underway, Warner created a classroom of sorts in his living room for Monday and Thursday night games.
“It’s really just me going over what I see on the field and how I attack defenses,” he said. “I think when you understand defenses and their weaknesses and their strengths and where we’re trying to run different plays, it can help you run routes in terms of the timing and depth you have to be. There’s different ways to run routes. I just like to go over that with guys. And I love talking football, so it’s a great little getaway for me to be able to talk to them. I hope they learned a lot from it.”
He admittedly wasn’t sure how popular his whiteboard sessions would be at first. "After the first couple sessions, I kinda weened away and said, ‘Alright, we’ll see if they want to hit me up,’” he said, but then guys kept coming back. Brown has been a regular. Warner said a bunch of other young receivers have been, too.
“I’ve had guys hit me up every week to go over and keep doing it,” he said. “I think they like it, I think they’re learning a little something from it. But I enjoy it and it’s good to see guys wanting to learn.”
Man of the people indeed.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.