When Kai Warren walks down the hallways at North Montgomery, his letter jacket says it all.
Not that he’s a senior based on the ‘20 slapped on one sleeve, or an athlete from the varsity letter patches on the other. Not the measure of success based on the all-conference and sectional championship patches on the back either.
None of that matters.
It’s all in the name.
During his sophomore football season, Warren lost his grandpa Greg Warren to a battle with cancer, and just days before the Chargers’ scrimmage with McCutcheon this fall, lost his grandma Kathy Warren unexpectedly.
While at first he was overwhelmed with sadness, Warren did the only thing he knew to do, and that was to dedicate the season to her.
“Before every game I get my wrist taped, and I write the date of her passing, and just say ‘I love you so much,’” he said.
He also had unfinished business on the gridiron. After three straight losing seasons, North Montgomery desperately needed a winning season, and Warren helped deliver it.
In a breakout senior season, Warren has caught 31 passes for 414 and five touchdowns, and is fourth on the team with 51 tackles, as the team heads into the state tournament against rival Crawfordsville on Friday night.
“I have more enthusiasm out there, because I have someone to play for,” Warren said about playing for his grandma. “And I’ve always got someone looking over me, so I just kind of give it 110 percent.”
Greg and Kathy Warren may no longer physically be here to watch their grandson play football, but it’s no secret they lent a hand in his success.
“The No. 1 thing about every, and I mean every Warren that I ever coached was that No. 1 they respected their authority figures,” longtime North Montgomery football coach, and current assistant Charley German said. “Whether it was their coaches or their parents. And I credit that totally to Greg and Kathy Warren for their respect.”
German coached Kai’s Dad, Mike, and uncles John, Bill, and Kory in the 1980s and 90s, and can’t remember a more hard-nosed and dedicated North Montgomery football family than the Warrens — that now includes Kai, and his older cousin, Brett.
“I thought those boys were extremely great kids,” German said. “However, when they crossed that sideline onto the field on game nights, they were as aggressive and intense as any group of kids I ever coached. Their philosophy was they were going to hit you from the snap of the ball, to the echo of the whistle.”
The competitiveness instilled into the four Warren boys continues to spread throughout their kids today.
“The way all of us Warrens grew up, we all followed a similar path, and all followed kind of the same thing. Being a Warren you’re really competitive,” Kai said. “There’s literally times you have to fight to sit on the couch or get in line for food first.”
And German saw it being passed down in football from Mike, and Brett’s Dad, Bill.
“You could see it the very first day of practice. They were going to do what the coaches said to make them better football players. And they were going to be very intense in their desire to play the game of football. They just seemed like they loved it,” he said of Brett and Kai. “And I’m sure when they all went to Greg and Kathy’s for Sunday dinners up there in Linden, those boys and their dad’s played football in the backyard.”
If Greg and Kathy weren’t hosting Sunday family dinners, they could be found at North Montgomery wearing orange and blue, and supporting their four boys, and eventually numerous grandkids.
“I don’t know how you could even figure this out, but how much money did Greg and Kathy spend on supporting their children and grandchildren?” German said. “They were at everything.”
German can recall a basketball game he was officiating at Coal Creek in the 1980s, when he got one of his first experiences of the Warren family cheering section.
“One year I did some officiating with Bobby Reese, and I can’t remember which Warren it was on the floor,” he said. “But it was an elementary or junior-high game and I looked over there and every Warren was sitting on the front bench watching that kid play. Talk about a tight-knit group. And if you picked on one, you had the whole clan coming down on you.”
For years, Kai had the luxury of his grandparents support, and that’s something he will never forget.
“They were at about just every game they could get to, whatever you played,” he said. “That was one of the hardest parts,” he continued about getting used to his grandpa Warren not being in the stands. “Because he was always the first person I would meet after the game, because most of the time it was to calm him down from yelling at the refs. Sometimes there would be nice things he’d say, and sometimes there wouldn’t be. He was bluntly honest with you, and he was never one to sugarcoat it.”
While losing his grandpa Greg, and grandma Kathy, Kai also lost his grandpa Bob McDonald before his sophomore baseball season.
“I’ve lost both grandpas and her (Kathy),” he said. “And it was really hard, because we haven’t really had a break. It’s just one after another.”
Just like his grandma’s passing has helped elevate his football game this fall, his grandpa Bob helped the same way in baseball.
“During baseball season when we won the sectional championship my sophomore year, as soon as we got the final out, I had chills, and I just thought of my grandpa McDonald,” he said. “He didn’t love the game of baseball, but he loved supporting me as well as all my grandparents did. My grandma still does. She had surgery on her back, but still tries to come to every single game she could.”
Losing grandparents is never easy, but if it did one thing, it made Warren realize how important family really is.
“There were times that I saw it, and I was like I love these people so much, and I never want to lose them,” he said. “And then once they’re gone you look back on the memories, and it’s like they really created this from the ground up.”
So when Kai Warren goes anywhere, he makes sure to wear his letter jacket. Not to show off what he is, but who he is, and where he’s come from.
“I’m just trying to add to the Warren name,” he said. “It’s very well known around the county, and any chance I get to add to that dynasty and keep that dynasty going. It just means the world to me that I’m a Warren. Even on my letter jacket, I know I can put it on and people know who I am.”