Sonora native Kahale Warring, a highly-touted second-year tight end with the Houston Texans, saw his first live National Football League action in Thursday night’s season opener when the Texans took on the Kansas City Chiefs, defending Super Bowl champions.

“There he is! Number 81!” Lloyd Longeway, Warring’s stepfather, exclaimed on the opening kickoff, pointing to a screen where his stepson was lined up on the Houston kick return team. “Let’s put that on replay!”

Warring's mother, Nichole Longeway, invited family members over to watch the nationally-televised Chiefs-Texans game. She had to watch some of the pregame on her phone because they had trouble with a new screen they set up for the occasion.

She sat and stood with her great-aunt, Sue Rosenquist, his great-uncle, Mike Rosenquist, and Warring's aunt, Rebecca Williams, to watch a replay of the opening kickoff on a working screen and everyone hollered their approval.

“It was good, he wasn’t in there a ton but it was his first game and he needed to ease in,” Nichole Longeway said. “It was exciting to see him play in his first game.”

When Warring lined up on special teams for the first time Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium, he became one of the few Sonorans ever to play in the NFL.

Kirk Clifton, varsity football offensive coordinator at Sonora High, watched the Chiefs-Texans game Thursday night. Clifton remembers when Warring walked on at a preseason midnight practice his senior year at Sonora, and asked if he could play for the Wildcats.

“He said coach I've never played football, I don’t know if I can catch a football,” Clifton said Friday in a phone interview. “I told him it was just like basketball, just catch the ball. He’s probably the best raw athlete I’ve ever been around in my life.”

That includes three athletes Clifton coached at Butte College who went on to play in the NFL, “a running back, a defensive lineman, and a receiver and he was a better raw athlete than all of them,” Clifton said. “He had incredible timing. He could run, he could jump, and he was 6-6 with the ability to put on a lot of weight like he did. The best part about Kahale is he's a good kid, a great kid.”

Warring, now 23, was a multi-sport star for the Wildcats and he was a Sonora High Class of 2015 grad. He played 19 games at San Diego State and started five before declaring for the 2019 NFL draft.

He was a third-round NFL Houston Texans draft pick in April 2019, and the Texans signed him in June to a four-year contract through 2022.

Warring was placed on the Texans’ injured reserve list in early September last year, about a month after he sustained a concussion in a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin. He also sustained a hamstring injury earlier last summer.

“It’s been challenging,” Nichole Longeway said. “He got the concussion. I think they wanted to give him a redshirt year, for want of a better term, to catch him up on the playbook and get him ready for this year.”

Thursday night’s NFL season opener was a rematch from last season’s playoffs in early January, when the Chiefs rallied from a 24-0 deficit to hammer the Texans 51-31 at Arrowhead, en route to Kansas City’s triumph in Super Bowl 54. The Chiefs again dominated the Texans at home Thursday to win 34-20.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL staged no preseason games in advance of Thursday night’s regular season opener. The league’s decision to cancel preseason games was announced in late July.

“I’m just excited to see him on the field and see what he’s capable of,” Nichole Longeway said before the Chiefs-Texans game Thursday night. “I’ve heard a lot of talk, that he has a lot of potential. So I’m just excited to see what it is and what he can do at this level of play.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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