College recruiters will have to wait on coveted quarterback prospect Tanner McKee

on Aug15

Diminishing rays of sunlight streamed through the majestic white clouds hovering over the Corona Centennial High football field on a glorious evening in April.

A picturesque sunset only added to the jovial mood of 6-foot-6, 220-pound quarterback Tanner McKee, who was participating in spring practice on his 17th birthday.

He accepted congratulations with a humble grin. He took playful teasing as if he were an adult among teenagers. Teammates were drawn to him because of his contagious smile and a belief that positive things happen when he’s around.

“He’s phenomenal,” Coach Matt Logan said, “and the best thing about him is his upside is huge.”

A year ago, in his first season as Centennial’s starting quarterback, McKee passed for 3,522 yards and 36 touchdowns and ran for 539 yards and 15 touchdowns.

“He’s so dang accurate,” Logan said. “He’s very intelligent and understands what we are doing.”

Centennial combines a no-huddle, up-tempo spread offense with occasional zone reads, requiring a quarterback who’s cool under pressure, makes quick judgments and is versatile and athletic.

All those qualities fit McKee, who has been playing quarterback since he was 9 years old.

“I’ve competed my whole life, so I’ve kind of embraced the pressure during a game,” McKee said. “I feel I don’t get too high or too low. I stay calm and feel that’s what you need in a quarterback. I love it.”

Tall and athletic since an early age, McKee played four sports at Centennial as a sophomore — football, basketball, volleyball and baseball. To say that his bedroom looked like a Footlocker store would be an understatement, with all kinds of size 13 shoes scattered about.

“I love playing different sports,” he said. “You work out different muscles. You don’t get bored.”

Quarterback is where his future rests. His size and improving strength should put him in position to have his best season yet when the Huskies open with a home game against Pittsburg, a Northern California power, on Aug. 25.

Centennial returns most of its offensive line from an 11-2 team. The Huskies have to replace most of their receivers and running backs, but having McKee as the quarterback should mean full speed ahead.

“Every year is a growing year,” McKee said, “so you gain more experience and I feel the more experience you have, the better quarterback you can be.”

Every game and every moment McKee is on the field this season will be something he cherishes because he has already decided that come the last game, he won’t be playing again until 2020 or maybe even 2021.

He’s leaving next summer on a two-year Mormon mission. An older sister is on mission in Washington, D.C. He won’t know his destination for months; it could be anywhere. He just knows that he’ll be bringing along a football and throwing it when he has one day a week for preparation time.

Chad Fotheringham, a former college quarterback who went on a mission to Ecuador in the 1990s and whose son Cole, a former San Clemente tight end, is on a two-year mission in Nicaragua, said, “You have to look at the positives and negatives. The positives are you grow up mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Physically, you have two years of not consistently throwing the football, but how much of playing quarterback is physical and how much is emotional?

“It may take time to get that muscle memory back, but the growth that comes mentally is an advantage. You just don’t grow up as a normal college kid. You grow up experiencing different cultures.”

McKee is one of the top quarterback prospects in California and has offers from UCLA, Stanford, Alabama, Brigham Young, Texas and others. He’s in no hurry to make a college choice.

When he does play after this season, one thing for sure will not have changed: his leadership qualities.

“You have to be a leader to be a quarterback,” he said. “I’ve embraced that. It’s a lot of fun being in charge and leading your team to ultimately winning the game.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer



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