Fred Warner during the game against Fresno State in 2016 (BYU Photo)
On Oct. 24, 2014, Laura Warner sat San Marcos, California, watching her son Troy Warner play in his high school football game. Almost a thousand miles away, her older son Fred Warner was playing at Boise State at the same time. While watching Troy play, and streaming the BYU game on her phone, she saw an ESPN alert come up on her phone: Fred Warner gets an interception and scores a touchdown.
“I must have been watching Troy and I missed Fred’s play,” Laura said.
The announcers at Troy’s game caught wind of the BYU freshman’s first pick-six and announced it over the intercom at Troy’s high school game. That pick-six was just the beginning of the highlight-reel plays that Fred would make in his next three years as a Cougar.
Raised in San Marcos in a single-parent household, Fred is a self-proclaimed “mama’s boy”. A homebody, Fred was a quiet kid who liked to read and draw. But since age four, sports have always been a part of his life.
“We tried every sport,” Laura said. “We went from soccer to tee-ball to basketball. Then we tried football and he found an instant love for the game.”
ROAD TO BYU
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound linebacker has always been bigger and more athletic than most kids. But, while he dreamed of playing college football Fred didn’t have the confidence in his ability to do so going into high school.
“I didn’t even start my junior year,” Fred said. “I maybe started a few games, but I had enough big plays to make a highlight tape.
However, a die-hard BYU fan and family friend saw Fred’s potential and sent his highlight tape to the coaches at BYU.
To gain more confidence in his ability to play football, Fred started a three-month training program with a traveling team in Los Angeles.
“We drove two hours every Saturday for him to play on that team,” Laura said
At the end of the training, Fred was selected to play for the traveling team’s A team. Not only did he play with the top recruits in Los Angeles, but he showcased his ability and talent. It was then that many college football programs became interested, including Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, California, Nebraska, New Mexico State, USC, Utah, Washington, Washington State and BYU.
But Laura wanted Fred to go to BYU.
“I’m a convert to the LDS church,” Laura said. “I joined the church when I was in high school. I wanted Fred to continue to grow in the church and I felt if he could play anywhere, why not play for a school where he could also grow as a man and priesthood holder.”
BYU offered Fred a football scholarship and soon after he made his official visit.
“It was the first Division I university I had ever visited,” Fred said. “They showed me around the facilities and after being up on campus, everything felt right, so I committed.”
FIRST TIME AT LaVELL EDWARDS STADIUM
In 2014, Fred ran out the tunnel for the first time at LaVell Edwards Stadium before BYU’s home opener against Houston.
“It was super surreal,” Fred said. “My freshman year I thought college football was just the best thing on earth. Growing up watching it on TV, I knew I wanted to play college football someday, but I never knew what kind of stage I would be on.”
Regardless of the stage that he played on, one thing was going to be the same; Laura would be in the stands watching her sons play.
“I always wanted them to know that I was there to support them, that someone was in the stands for them,” Laura said. “I never missed a game when they were young, so just because they are far away doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be there for them still.”
As the weeks went by, Fred started to see more playing time. But an injury cut his freshman season short. During the game against Utah State, the linebacker noticed his back started hurting. After an MRI, the trainers couldn’t see anything wrong so he kept playing. But, his back kept getting worse. In the second to last game of the regular season against UNLV, Fred was plowed down by a lineman.
“I was coming off the edge on a play and I slipped and fell flat on my face,” Fred said. “It was then that a 330-pound lineman launched himself into my back. After that, it was just pure pain.”
Fred fractured his lower back and would miss the last two regular season games and the bowl game. He spent every day for the next three months in a carbon fiber brace that went from his chest all the way to his lower back, followed by three months of rehab.
During Fred’s sophomore year, talk started to circle around what Fred’s little brother, Troy, was going to do.
“I wanted Fred at BYU and I wanted Troy there of course, not only to be with his brother, but to be a part of the school,” Laura said.
Troy and Fred are only 18 months apart, and they had to do everything together. A stark contrast from his older brother, Troy couldn’t sit still.
“Fred was really quiet as a kid,” Laura said. “He was very particular in what he wanted to do, but Troy on the other hand was a terror. Fred liked to play video games where Troy couldn’t sit still and was always seeing who he could bother.”
Regardless of their differences, they are best friends and Fred plays the role of older brother.
“He’s a guy that has been pushing me my whole life, just for me to be my best version of myself,” Troy said.
But Laura thought that Troy was pretty set on not wanting to live in Fred’s shadow. A cornerback and wide receiver, Troy originally committed to Oregon.
When Troy committed to the Ducks, Fred supported his younger brother’s decision.
“I wasn’t in on every conversation they had, but for the most part Fred was always very approving,” Laura said. “Fred always told Troy to do exactly what he wanted to do to follow his dream.”
It didn’t take long, however, before Troy saw something that he liked at BYU, and his older brother was a big part of that.
“Having Fred at BYU made me more comfortable, and comfort was a big thing for me,” Troy said. “I wanted a place where I could come and be myself.”
As a result, Troy decommitted from Oregon and signed with the Cougars.
A QUIET LEADER
With two years of college ball under his belt, and his little brother playing by his side again, Fred emerged as a quiet leader during junior season.
“You don’t have to be an exciting, rah-rah guy all the time to lead,” linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi said. “You lead by your example and by your actions and let that do the talking for you. That is the kind of leader Fred is.”
With 86 total tackles his junior season, the now a senior captain, is ready to finish his final season as a Cougar in a big way.
“I let my playing do most of the talking,” Fred said. “Guys see what I do on game day and on the practice field, so they know what I am capable of and what I bring to the table.”
While he is mainly focusing on his upcoming season with BYU, he is hoping for an invited to the NFL Combine or the Senior Bowl.
But even before his final year started, NFL scouts were already intrigued.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Fred said. “Growing up, this is what every little football kid dreams about --- going to the NFL --- so the fact that it is this close is wild.”
Laura is just as excited for her son to fulfill his dream.
“I’m excited that he continues to work hard at his goal,” Laura said. “I’ve always encouraged them to think beyond football. It’s just a short time in their life and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted them to go to BYU. I want them to think about life after football and their end goal.”
The Warner family has become extremely close through football and Fred wants to make his mom proud.
Almost exactly two years after Fred scored his first pick-six he found himself, again, at Boise State. The BYU football team participated in their usual day-before a game walk-through at the field and Fred reenacted his very first college touchdown.
“We were just kind of fooling around and I was like, ‘It was right here where I caught it and ran it into the end zone,’” Fred said.
The next night, this time with his brother by his side and Laura in the stands celebrating her birthday, Fred repeated history. Just like in the 2014 Boise State game, Fred made an interception and scored his second career pick-six.
Later, that self-proclaimed “mama’s boy” found his mom and told her that touchdown was just for her.