Former BYU linebacker, and current 49ers captain, Fred Warner talks the health of the program ahead of the Big 12

Warner will play in the NFC Championship game on Sunday with a chance to head to his second Super Bowl

FILE - San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) plays against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL football game in Glendale, Ariz., in this Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, file photo. Warner was selected Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, to The Associated Press All-Pro Team. (AP Photo/Jennifer Stewart, File)

Fred Warner does his best to watch BYU football games in his spare time. Somewhere between 49ers practices and travel, he will squeeze in a few minutes to keep up with his former team.

“I try to stay in tune,” Warner told The Salt Lake Tribune.

His life these days, though, can make that task far more complicated. He will play in the NFC championship game on Sunday, his third in his career. A trip to his second Super Bowl will be on the line when the 49ers play the Eagles at 1 p.m..

Beyond that, Warner has risen to All-Pro status and is among the best defensive players in the NFL. He just signed a five-year contract worth $95 million, with over 40% of the deal guaranteed.

Still, he remembers playing at BYU from 2014-17 and becoming a three-year starter. Every so often he gives his thoughts on the program.

In an interview after the 49ers played the Saints in November, Warner voiced his strong support for head coach Kalani Sitake even after a down season. When BYU played Stanford this year, Warner visited BYU’s team hotel to talk to Sitake in-person. He then spoke to the team.

“Kalani is my guy,” said Warner, who was a junior when Sitake took over. “I’m always going to show up and I’m happy to be able to talk to them. I’m super happy that I was able to go out and see them. I don’t know if I was able to influence them in anyway, but it was good to see them go out there and get that win.”

While Warner did not get into specifics, he believes the health of the program is heading into the right direction. The Cougars will enter the Big 12 Conference next year, ending over a decade of football independence.

While the team took a step back in 2022 — going 8-5 after back-to-back, 10-win seasons — Warner still thinks the pieces are in place to achieve to sustained success.

“I know they got all that handled,” he said of where the program needs to grow. “I’m happy they are finally able to go into the Big 12 and go into these big-time games.”

During Warner’s years, BYU played Power Five opponents with some consistency. He played Michigan State, UCLA, Arizona, Mississippi State, West Virginia and Utah during the 2016 season alone. But now that the schedule will no longer be a question comes as a relief to Warner.

“We are built for that stage,” Warner said. “A lot of good things are coming.”

The one thing Warner did express some emotion about was the departure of defensive coordinator Iliasa Tuiaki. It hit closer to home for the California native. He played for Tuiaki and credited a lot of his success in college to the embattled coordinator.

“Great relationship,” Warner said. “That guy was huge for me back when I played. Best of wishes to him in whatever he does next. I have a lot of love just for the entire organization.”

Warner finished this regular season as an All-Pro again and is the captain of a 13-4 team in the regular season. He recorded 130 total tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.