Kurt Warner makes strides as Desert Mountain High School’s new offensive coordinator.
For high school football players, there’s really nothing else like those Friday night lights. The nervous excitement that comes before every game; the electrifying feeling as their cleats hit the moist green grass; the rush they get running down the field as eager fans cheer them on and the heart-stopping thrill when the announcer calls touchdown! —these are the moments that players live for.
But there’s another component to football as well, which includes waking up before the sun rises for early morning practices, bonding with teammates, and learning the value of hard work, strength and discipline— all experiences that these players will carry on with them for many years to come.
No one knows the value of both these factors—the rush of the game and the lasting lessons after— more than former Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Kurt Warner. Known for his tremendous skills on the field, determination to pursue excellence in everything he does and sincere love of the game, Warner’s accolades speak for themselves—he won two NFL MVP awards, the Super Bowl MVP award in Super Bowl XXXIV and led the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl in 2008.
However, for Warner, football isn’t only just about the game, it’s also a way for him to give back to his community, touching the lives of many through the Kurt Warner First Things First Foundation, a philanthropic endeavor that earned him the 2008 Walter Payton Man of the Year honor.
On a smaller scale, Warner also hopes to take the life lessons he learned from the NFL to inspire young football players to chase after their dreams and pursue excellence in every area of their lives.
“I just love the game, and I love being able to teach young kids how to play the game and teach them about life through the game,” says Warner.
It was that sentiment that eventually led him to his current role as offensive coordinator, alongside Head Coach Mike Morrissey, at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale.
A Team Sport
Ask any football player or coach, and they’ll tell you that even after only a week or so of practice, the team starts to become a family. For Warner at Desert Mountain, that’s literally true, as his son Kade will be starting off his junior year on the team.
“That’s where it starts. You have a son that’s 16 years old who’s gonna be at practice for two or three hours a day, and it’s the last couple of years you are going to have with him; so it’s an opportunity to really spend some time with him, teach him through the game of football and help him succeed,” says Warner.
However, this determination to teach doesn’t end with his son. Warner coaches all the players on their offensive performance, helping them learn new strategies, sharpening their skills and working on their technique in preparation for game day. More importantly, he also teaches the players how to work together as a team to support, learn and grown from each other.
“I just think football is the ultimate team game, and with that brings great life lessons about things that you have to do as a unit, the way you have to come together, the importance of teamwork and the importance of you being accountable to the guys around you,” explains Warner.
It is these lessons, the ones learned about working together as a unit, that far surpass the momentary thrill of winning and will follow the players for the rest of their lives.
“I just think there are so many great life lessons learned through the game of football, and that’s our primary focus, to use the game to teach these guys how to become great young men, and hopefully along the way we play some great football,” says Warner.
Striving for Excellence
If there is one thing that Warner exemplifies, it is excellence both on and off the field, and as a coach; he acts as both a mentor and role model for the players at Desert Mountain, helping them to learn from the game of football.
“My advice to them is to just enjoy the moment, work hard and come up with a lifestyle and a character that displays excellence, and that carries over, whether that be at school or at home or on the football field,” says Warner. “I think those things are important, really establishing yourself as someone who is always in pursuit of excellence.”
However, while pursuing excellence, Warner also likes to remind his players to enjoy all those unforgettable moments and to never loose sight of their love for the game.
“Right now, in high school, the main thing is to have fun, and to make sure you love what you’re doing. That’s the biggest part, because once football becomes work, once it becomes all about making it to the pros, you loose sight of why you play the game and what’s so great about it,” he says.
For Warner, being a football coach and a mentor to high school students really is all about teaching them life lessons through the game that they will carry on well beyond the football field.
“I think the greatest part of coaching is just being able to help kids enjoy success. To see what it is their goals are and what they want to accomplish and to be out there to help them accomplish that is, for me, the greatest part, and right behind that, or equal to that, is teaching them things that apply to their lives,” says Warner.
This is something that Coach Morrissey also holds at the core of his football philosophy.
“The things you want to see them do after they leave here are so much bigger than any game that we’ll ever play, and if we can make a difference with these guys to where it really carries over into their everyday life going forward, that’s a bigger impact than any win they’ll ever have,” he says. “So if they can be better men after their time with us, then we’ve done our job.”
It is with this dedication to providing their players with an education not only in football, but also in life, that makes every pass, every catch and every touchdown the team gains a truly winning moment.
And there really is no better role model for pursuing excellence beyond the field than Warner, as he has built his legacy not only from what he has accomplished as a quarterback for the NFL, but as a philanthropist, member of the community, and as a husband and father.
“It starts on the football field, but it really carries over to every other part of their lives, which to me is the exciting part because you know that those are things that will pay dividends for 50 years. Who knows, this may be the last year that some of these guys play, but the lessons that they take with them they’ll have forever.”
And that is what makes Kurt Warner an all-star mentor and coach.