It might be midway through the 2019 season before Elijah “EJ” Warner makes his varsity football debut at Brophy Prep (Phoenix) at quarterback.
But when he does the spotlight will be bright.
He is the son of Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. The expectations come just playing the same position. Does he have his dad’s field vision, arm, smarts, skills?
“It’s hard, because everybody expects me to be as good as him if not better,” Elijah said. “I just try to play like I know I can, play my best.”
Time is on his side. He will only be a sophomore in the fall. Still under 6 feet tall, he is still growing.
He might spend a year learning as Matt Winter will get his first varsity shot as a senior after playing JV, while former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna’s son, Jalen, had the offensive reigns as a sophomore last season.
The Jon Kitna left Brophy after just one season as head coach, taking the quarterbacks coaching job with his former team, the Dallas Cowboys. Jalen went with him.
That opened up the quarterback job this spring in Jason Jewell’s first season as head coach.
Jewell, who finished his first spring workouts with Brophy last week, welcomed Warner, who transferred from Scottsdale Desert Mountain during the winter.
This spring, he also welcomed Kurt Warner, who reunited with his Northern Iowa teammate, Chad Monson.
Monson, who was at Glendale Community College two years ago as offensive coordinator, will take on that role at Brophy Prep, while Warner will be the passing-game coordinator. Monson was Warner’s center in college.
“Being able to reconnect with Kurt and learn some things from him, a lot of things from him, to be able to put it in the same offense, where we kind of mesh together, we’ve been able to do that the last three weeks,” Monson said.
Warner jokes, “He just wants to run it too much.”
It’s no given that Warner’s son will become the starter. First, he has to see when he’ll be eligible, going through the Arizona Interscholastic Association transfer appeals.
First-time transfers are ineligible the first half of the season, unless they can prove there was hardship for the move.
Jewell said there has been a 7-on-7 session during which Warner didn’t miss a pass, but Winter has had good practices and shown he can lead the offense.
“We’ll see,” Jewell said about the quarterback job. “We don’t know if (Warner) will be eligible. So it’s Matt until we hear otherwise.”
Kurt Warner likes both quarterbacks.
“Hopefully, they’ll grow together,” Kurt said. “EJ’s got three years left; Matt has just one. We’re hoping we can get him in and get him some playing time, but it would be beautiful if we could get both of them experience at the varsity level and there wasn’t a drop off. Matt is getting his experience, and EJ is getting his for the future. But it’s early. We’re three week in. We have no idea how this will play out. But I’m happy with how all the guys are performing right now.”
There is no varsity experience at quarterback at Brophy, but great offensive line experience, led by tackle Andrew Milek, 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, who has offers from Boise State and Colorado.
At Desert Mountain, Kurt Warner saw first hand how difficult it was to establish the pass without a great offensive line that could dictate a run game.
This Brophy line should help the quarterbacks as they get reps, build confidence and work towards the Aug. 23 opener against Peoria Liberty.
“I love it here,” EJ said. “I love the school. I love the coaches. They’re all awesome. I’m just trying to build a relationship with them.”
EJ realizes pressure comes with being named Warner and being a quarterback.
His older brother Kade avoided the comparisons by having nothing to do with throwing a football growing up. He became an All-Arizona wide receiver at Desert Mountain, and, as a walk-on at Nebraska, became part of the Cornhuskers offense last year.
Elijah embraced being a quarterback from the beginning, knowing there is his dad’s Pro Football Hall of Fame resume — that includes NFL Super Bowl MVP with the St. Louis Rams and leading the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance as quarterback — to look up to.
“Does he feel it?” Kurt said when asked whether EJ feels the weight of expectations being his son. “I tell you, it has nothing to do with me. He loves the game. Both of my boys want to continue to play and have success.
“That was one of the reasons Kade, my older son, got away from quarterback. I remember in Pop Warner, you could see the other coaches and parents say, ‘Oh, Kurt Warner’s son, we’re going to have a quarterback.’ So they’d give him the ball and my son would throw it into the ground numerous times, like, ‘I don’t want anyone to think I’m a quarterback, so I’m going to sabotage this and play wide receiver.’
“Then you have another one that has always been gifted and has great vision and goes, ‘I want to follow in Dad’s footsteps.’ But yeah, you’re right, I think there’s always pressure. Any time anybody hears that, there is an expectation of what he’s supposed to be. Mom and I are always trying to be, ‘You’ve got to be you, you’ve got to do you, and don’t let that other stuff step in.’ But he’s a very competitive kids who sometimes beats himself up to live up to expectations. We have to continue to temper that as coaches and fathers to make sure that doesn’t overwhelm him.”
Kurt says his son doesn’t shy away from the expectations. It’s impossible to do so if a son takes up quarterback in the Warner family.
But he also is getting some pretty good coaching while developing at Brophy.
“I’m going to coach him and tell him, ‘This is what you need to do,’ ” Kurt said. “He doesn’t always like that. He wants to do what’s easy for him. At the end of the day, it’s nothing but good for him to be able to handle whatever pressure comes your way. It’s something that is applied in football, or off the field, in life, in business, as a parent. So he’ll welcome that and he’ll do good with it, even though there might be moments where it’s really tough on him.”