Warner Returns To UNI For NFL Network Show
It's been 16 years since Kurt Warner was last known to visit Cedar Falls. The former UNI Panthers' quarterback and retired NFL star ended that drought on Tuesday (April 12, 2016).
Warner returned to his alma mater to tape a new NFL Network show called "Back 2 Campus", which will air sometime in the future. According to Warner, who now works as an analyst for the network, the series features NFL Network talent returning to their former campuses to connect with someone who's currently chasing their NFL dream.
"It's great for me, because I never get enough opportunities to come back here," Warner said during a press conference at UNI's Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC). "It's been a long time."
The student-athlete Warner connected with at UNI is cornerback Deiondre' Hall, the 2015 Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) Defensive Player of the Year who's hoping to hear his named called in the NFL Draft later this month. Warner, Hall, and a camera crew spent the day touring campus and filming material for the upcoming show.
Hall said he was skeptical when someone first told him about the opportunity to do the show with Warner.
"At first, I didn't believe it," Hall said. "Then it started being a bigger thing ... definitely exciting."
Warner believes Hall has the skills to play in the NFL.
"The biggest thing is the flexibility he can bring," Warner said. "One thing that I continue to see at the NFL level -- really at any level -- is the more you can do. The more you bring to the table, the more opportunity you have to make a team and be an integral part of teams.
"Here's a guy who can play every position in the defensive backfield, from safety to corner to being in the slot. To me, that's probably the greatest thing he can bring to the table. He's going to have an opportunity to make the team in a lot of different ways."
When it comes to the NFL, Warner believes the stigma surrounding players and FCS programs like UNI has changed since he quarterbacked the Panthers in 1994. At the same time, he feels more needs to be done to change the perception of student-athletes at smaller-budget programs.
Said Warner, "I still believe that we've got work to do in that process. I still think people look down on the smaller schools a little bit."
When it comes to the stigma surrounding FCS players, the Cedar Rapids native speaks from experience. His rags-to-riches path to the NFL -- going from a minimum-wage worker at a Cedar Falls grocery store to Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in a span of three years -- is one of the best underdog stories in sports.
Warner realizes the journey he took to the NFL can have an impact on other players like himself, such as Hall.
"The coolest part about where he's at is he's going to get an opportunity," Warner said about Hall's chances of playing in the NFL. "The difference when I was going through the process was I had know idea if I was going to get it. As we saw, I didn't get much of an opportunity for a long time."
Before sitting down in front of the cameras and microphones at Tuesday's press conference, Warner stepped inside the UNI-Dome and met with the UNI football team.
Warner's last known visit to the Cedar Valley was in 2000, when he served as parade Grand Marshall for the 25th annual Sturgis Falls Celebration.