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Gridiron Guru

Former college coach Dave Warner brings his expertise to Lake Country

Story by T. Michael Stone

Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast, but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.

--Tom Brady

Former Michigan State University coach Dave Warner during a game. Warner now lives and works as a trainer for individual players in Lake Oconee. Photo contributed by MSU Athletic Commumications.

They are icons of the American sports landscape. Some claim they play the most difficult position in all of sports.

Many have clever nicknames: “Broadway” Joe Namath, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, or Stetson “The Mailman” Bennett who won consecutive national titles at the University of Georgia.

But great quarterbacks don’t actually need nicknames. Tom Brady never really had one, and who can forget 26 unanswered points in Super Bowl LI. Well, some people call Brady the G.O.A.T.; that’s not a nickname but an analysis.

No, it’s not a nickname a quarterback needs but talent that can be developed by superior coaching.

Pictured above, Past and present: Warner coaches up Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins (left) and hosts him at Lake Oconee (right), now that Cousins is the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. (left photo by MSU Athletics, right photo contributed by Coach Warner)

To that end, Coach Dave Warner, who started playing quarterback in the fourth grade, and who has accumulated more than 40 years of experience in college coaching, has brought his wisdom and football knowledge to Lake Country. And he recently began offering training sessions to young men who want to excel at the position of quarterback. (See www.qbexcel for a closer look).

According to the website mentioned above, Coach Warner’s objective “is to provide a comprehensive experience and allow QBs of all ages (10 years of age through college) to grow, maximize their potential, and become a productive signal caller.”

Coach Warner works with Knox Van Mol at Lake Oconee Academy recently. Photo by T. Michael Stone

Is he qualified to deliver on that?


Let’s take a look at his career and some of his proteges.

Warner is a native of Pennsylvania and played for the Indians of Lehighton High School.

According to the Syracuse football club website, Warner completed 81 of 141 passes for 1,257 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior and earned a scholarship to Syracuse University.

While at Syracuse, Warner threw for 2,593 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed 342 times for 1,139 yards and 16 touchdowns.

As a senior, Warner beat a Boston College team led by future Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and then beat a ranked West Virginia squad to close out his college career.

He took a shot at professional football with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1982 and the New Jersey Generals of the USFL the following year before returning to college as a graduate assistant at Syracuse. There he worked with future Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who was the quarterbacks coach and a mentor of Warner’s. Tressel won a national title with the Buckeyes in 2002.

And so began Warner’s sometimes nomadic life as a college football coach.

Warner got his first full-time college coaching job in 1984 at Kent State as running backs coach. “It’s hard to get a fulltime job at a D1 school fresh out of being a graduate assistant,” Warner said. “So, I was very fortunate.”

He then moved to coaching quarterbacks in 1986 under Glen Mason. Warner followed Mason to Kansas University in 1988 where he stayed for nine seasons.

Mason, as Bulldog fans will remember, agreed to take the head coaching job at the University of Georgia in 1995 but had a change of heart and chose to stay with the Jayhawks, otherwise Coach Dave Warner might well have arrived in Lake Country almost 30 years earlier.

Photo courtesy of MSU Athletics Communications.

When Warner arrived in Lawrence, the Kansas Jayhawks team had not won more than it lost since 1981, but the team steadily improved under the guidance of Mason, Warner and the rest of the coaching staff.

By 1995, Kansas had emerged as one the best teams in the country, winning 10 games for the first time since 1905 and finishing the season ranked ninth in the AP poll.

“We got things turned around and went to multiple bowl games,” Warner said. “We had a pretty good run there. It was a good place to coach.” But soon Warner was, as Willie Nelson might say, on the road again. He coached at Bucknell, a small school in the Patriot League in 1997. That team also finished with 10 wins.

In 1998, Wyoming coach Dana Dimel hired Warner as his passing game coordinator and later brought him to Houston in the same capacity for two seasons. After two seasons at Southern Mississippi – where Warner met his wife Leigh Ann – Warner joined Mark Dantonio on the Cincinnati staff and followed him to Michigan State to coach quarterbacks the next season. Warner would remain at MSU for 13 years.

It was at MSU that Warner made his most significant impact, directing the most productive offense in school history in 2014, setting school records for points, scoring average per game, offensive touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, total offense, rushing yards and first downs.

Brian Hoyer is one of five quarterbacks Warner coached at MSU who play in the NFL.

Two of the five quarterbacks Warner coached at Michigan State are now suiting up for National Football League teams, including Brian Hoyer (Las Vegas Raiders) and Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings). A third QB, Connor Cook was drafted by the Oakland Raiders after leading the Spartans to the Big Ten Championship in 2013 with a 24-34 win over Urban Meyer and Ohio State in the title game. The team finished the season ranked third in the nation.

Cousins has been the most successful of Warner’s MSU alumni and attributes much of his success to the coach. “I have spent more time with Dave Warner than any coach in my entire football journey, and it has led to success beyond my wildest dreams,” Cousins has said. “Coach Warner, from three decades spent coaching QB’s at the major college level, will take a holistic approach, ensuring that each QB is prepared to handle all that is thrown their way, especially when lights get the brightest. I’m always looking for a competitive advantage and time spent with Coach Warner is just that.”

Cousins, who has won five of the nine NFL playoff games in which he has played, dropped in on Coach Warner at his Lake Country home a couple of weeks before the 2023 NFL season started.

Hoyer said that Warner is a detailed, hard-working, and passionate QB coach. “The fundamentals I built from my time with him I continue to use today in my 15th NFL season,” Hoyer has said. “I couldn’t have gotten where I am now without my time with him.”

After moving to Lake Country three years ago following Dantonio’s retirement, Warner took the 2020 season off when COVID hit, playing some golf and tennis, and enjoying the lake. “This was a pretty good place to spend the COVID year,” Warner said

Quarterback Coach Dave Warner, courtesy of MSU Athletics

Warner then returned the sidelines with his longtime coaching friend Dana Dimel at University of Texas at El Paso for two seasons. Not surprisingly, Warner was part of an offensive staff that led the Miners offense to an average of 393 yards of total offense per game – the most since 2009.

The 2022 season would be his last, however, as Warner decided to come back to Lake Country and be with his wife Leigh Ann, daughter Alex and son Jackson who is currently a freshman at Georgia Southern University.

Warner considered taking a high school coaching job but decided to begin his own quarterback training school instead. “I’ve got about 20 guys I’m working with right now, which is a start,” Warner said. “Obviously we want to build on it and hopefully this time next year we’ll have 40 or 50. Obviously we work a lot on fundamentals and technique, but we go way beyond that. I try and spend just as much time on the mental aspects of the game.”

Warner works with LOA starting quarterback Ike O'Neal. Photo by T. Michael Stone

Warner thinks it’s beneficial for quarterbacks to practice alongside other quarterbacks. “My goal is to have sessions with four or five quarterbacks at the same time,” he said.

Warner’s pupils include several young men in Georgia and surrounding states, including Lake Oconee Academy’s starting quarterback Ike O’Neal.

As yet, O’Neal has no nickname that we know of.

To reach Coach Warner: email, visit online at or check out his Instagram page @qbexcel

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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 5 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.


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