Kade Warner leans on family's struggles to chart NFL journey

TAMPA, Fla. -- The last time Kade Warner was in Tampa, he was 10 years old sitting in the stands at Raymond James Stadium watching his father, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, lead the Arizona Cardinals on a furious 16-point comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII before Santonio Holmes' tip-toe catch sealed their fate in a 27-23 loss.

"It was the loudest cannons I heard firing, I didn't really want to hear them," said Warner, an undrafted free agent wide receiver from Kansas State who signed with the Buccaneers last week.

Fast-forward 14 years, and Warner stands on the practice field at the Buccaneers' facility across the street from that very stadium for rookie minicamp while the elder Warner is the one trying to keep it together.

"He [Dad] sent me probably three or four text messages in the middle of the night last night because he was just so amped up that I'm here. But I told him, 'I've got to get my sleep,'" Warner said with a smile, adding that this has been a "cool full circle moment."

Another cool full circle moment? Day 3 of the NFL draft.

"It was emotional because I knew who I was, I knew I wasn't a first two days kind of guy," Warner said. "When that sixth round kind of hit, seventh round, then it starts to dwindle down gets close, [and] then post-draft obviously you start getting closer and closer..."

Family members held their breath collectively each time he left the room, hoping it would be a team either selecting him or wanting to sign him. Instead, it would be a friend or an agent offering words of encouragement or some insight. Then came a call from an 813 number. The call was from the Buccaneers, a team his father had well-documented battles against when he quarterbacked the Greatest Show on Turf as a member of the St. Louis Rams.

"I came back and told my family, started crying a little bit," Warner said. "It was emotional. Just a lot of work to get here."

Much like his father -- considered one of the greatest underdog stories in professional sports as the first undrafted free agent to be named Super Bowl MVP -- his path to the NFL won't be an easy one, and it hasn't been thus far, even with a famous last name.

"I was a walk-on and no one wanted me," Warner said. "Didn't have any offers. Went to Nebraska, they didn't want me. Went to Kansas State, took a couple years, finally got there, didn't get drafted. So it's been a lot of twists and turns and a lot of adversity, so to be here, to put on this jersey, to go out there and play football -- it's literally just a dream come true for me."

But it wasn't just Dad, who, after being cut by the Green Bay Packers in 1994, stocked groceries at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His mother raised two children -- Zachary and Jesse Jo -- as a single parent after her son Zachary suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him blind when he was just four months old. She was given a hardship discharge from the Marines in 1990, living off food stamps and in low-income housing before meeting Kurt while pursuing her nursing license. Then in 1996, both of her parents were killed when a tornado struck their home in Mountain View, Arkansas. The couple married in 1997.

"That's who I get it from, overcoming adversity, just my whole family," Warner said. "My dad, obviously you all know is story. My mom, if you've seen [the movie] 'American Underdog,' you kind of know some of her story. My older brother, the same way. My whole family, just fight through adversity. People tell you you can't do stuff and you do it anyway."

He spent three years at Nebraska and two at Kansas State, but it wasn't until his final year for the Wildcats that he caught his first collegiate touchdown pass, finishing that season with 456 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

"[He's] a solid football player," coach Todd Bowles said after Warner's first practice. "He can catch the ball, he can play special teams, he can do a lot of things that we need and we're always looking for special teams players."

The Bucs' receiving corps already features Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as well as veteran Russell Gage. But it is lacking in depth after the departure of Scotty Miller in free agency and not re-signing Breshad Perriman. They did select Trey Palmer, a wideout with 4.33 speed out of Nebraska in the sixth round last month. They also signed Taye Barber out of TCU, Rakim Jarrett out of Maryland and Ryan Miller out of Furman as undrafted free agents.

"[He's] coachable, very coachable, [and] fundamentally sound it looked like in individual drills," Bowles said. "One day is hard to get a gauge on it so we'll see how it progresses from there."

He credits Dad for helping him understand the thought process of a quarterback.

"I play wide receiver like a quarterback would," Warner said. "I see the defense. I know where we're trying to get to. Even if the play's not to me, I know how to get other people open too. So I run the routes and I do the plays to make the play work, not just to get myself open all the time. I think that breeds success in the offenses that I've been in, it's what I'm going to continue to do here, but that's kind of where it all starts, with my dad teaching me back in those high school days."

The most important piece of advice Dad has given him so far?

"One thing I always lean back on is 'you know who you are,'" Warner said. "You know who you are, through it all. With the adversity, with people overlooking you, or, some bad days or good days -- just fall back on who you are and what you did to get there. That's what he tells me all the time. That's what he told me last night at 1 a.m. That's what I remember right now."