When Tanner McKee started playing football, he went to sleep with his football pads on every night for a week.
His love for the game has only evolved since then. Fast-forward ten years and he is now the starting quarterback (he’s been on the varsity team since freshman year) at Centennial High School, one of the top ranked teams in the nation. As of now, they are 4-1 (a single loss to powerhouse IMG Academy) and ranked 3rd nationally. Being the quarterback, Tanner is the face of the program, and they couldn’t have constructed a better representative in a lab. He is a phenomenal athlete, determined leader, and tenacious seventeen-year-old.
With less than a season left of his high school career, Tanner has already totaled 4,811 passing yards with 49 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. But, he’s not done yet. Beyond his personal statistics, Tanner is focused on the team. His number one goal for this year is to win the state championship.
These stats and his impressive performances at various camps caught the attention of Trent Dilfer and the Elite 11 coaches. After an exceptional performance at one of the regional competitions, he received the first invitation of the year to the Elite 11 semifinals in Los Angeles.
Over the three days, 24 of the top quarterbacks competed for a coveted spot to the Opening – football heaven. Every day they competed and the following morning, the coaches discussed performance and generated a list of eleven. After the first morning, Tanner ranked 5th and after the second, he climbed two places to 3rd.
There’s more to Elite 11 than just football though: Three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings played the quarterbacks in beach volleyball and Elite 11 alum and current UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen gave a testimony about his experiences as a college athlete.
Following the eventful weekend and a long evaluation, the coaches decided to send Tanner to Oregon. It was a smart decision.
Tanner sat out on Sunday – in accordance to religious beliefs – he led his team, the Untouchables, to two impressive wins. In the first game against Lunar Beast, he threw for 5 touchdowns and was named Player of the Game. In the second game, he threw for 3 touchdowns against Alpha Menace.
Even though his team fell short in the second semifinal playoff game, the week spent in Oregon left a lasting impact. From the opportunity to compete against top athletes in the country to the unrivaled coaching by former Elite 11 quarterbacks (Odell Beckham Jr. also made a surprise visit) and the staff, the week developed Tanner in more ways than he imagined.
“Playing with those caliber of guys was a lot of fun and I thought the coaches were great,” he says. “They really cared about you more than just football.”
Last summer, Tanner’s promising football career almost came to a sudden end.
Upon noticing an odd-shaped mole on his forehead, Tanner’s mom took him to see a dermatologist. The doctors removed the mole, and a few others, to perform a biopsy. When the results came back, they showed that the original mole on his forehead tested positive for melanoma. Suddenly, Tanner was not only preparing for his junior season, but also for a battle against cancer.
“That was pretty scary…didn’t know a lot about it, but I knew it wasn’t good,” says Tanner.
There was a possibility the cancer could spread to his lymph nodes and other organs and threaten his life. Many questions went through his head: “Would I have to stop playing? Was there a possibility I could die from this?”.
After extensive prayer, their family decided to pursue treatment at UCI’s medical center. Doctors decided the best course of action would be to make a 5-inch incision in his hairline to remove the infected area in addition to two lymph nodes from his neck. Those nerves control the motion in his right arm and any damage could affect his ability to throw the football.
Thankfully, the surgery went according to plan. The first thing Tanner did when he woke up was imitate throwing a football.
“I wanted to make sure it still worked,” he says. And it did.
Today, Tanner is cancer free. The experience taught him a lot about the importance of life: every day is precious and should not be taken for granted because it can all change in a single moment.
“Every morning I do my hair, I see that scar on my forehead as a reminder of how truly blessed I am,” says Tanner.
Tanner has made the most of every opportunity to play the game of football since then. In January, he will travel to San Antonio, Texas to once again play among the best recruits.
The Army All-American game is arguably the best send-off for high school athletes before they embark on their careers as college athletes.
For Tanner, the game will be even more significant; it will be the last time he plays football for two years.
Faith is extremely important to him. It comes before everything else in his life, including football. It’s the reason he willingly sat out one day at the Opening and will delay his college football career.
Tanner is a devout Mormon and will partake in a two-year mission trip with the LDS church following high school.
The religious commitment hasn’t negatively affected his recruitment. Colleges still recognize him as he is – a fantastic athlete.
Mentally, he is very even keeled and thrives under pressure situations. He makes smart decisions with the ball and loves the essence of competition. Physically, he has good size – standing at 6’6 – and exhibits a strong arm and accurate throws.
Right now, Tanner has 25 offers.
He’s still in the process of visiting different campuses to find the perfect fit – a school that will develop him as a person and a player in addition to boasting an impressive reputation of challenging academics and a talented football team.
Stanford is very high on his list and he will be taking an official visit soon.
On February 7, 2018, one lucky program will be privileged enough to add him to their roster.
Tanner McKee never backs down from a challenge. In two years, when he finally steps foot on a college football field, the fight for the starting position will be no different.
Tanner’s Advice: I would say to stay humble and hungry. Always be willing to work for what you want. Don’t listen to people who say you can’t or those who tell you how good you are. Stay focused on what it takes to become your best. Last, always respect other people.