Every year, a couple dozen college football recruits put off their playing careers for two years and spend that time on a mission for Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Mormon church could send someone almost anywhere in the world for a tour that emphasizes a combination of community service, teaching, and religious activism.
One of those players in 2018 is four-star Centennial (Calif.) quarterback Tanner McKee. Rated the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the class on the 247Sports Composite, McKee is going to delay his career while completing a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
McKee announced his signing with Stanford on National Signing Day. He chose Stanford over Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M, and Washington. The NLI McKee signs to Stanford this year probably won’t matter, officially.
An NLI is a binding agreement. Players who sign one are bound to that school until they’ve completed at least one year there. But if McKee doesn’t actually enroll — and he won’t, because he’s going on a mission — that NLI expires. Put another way, McKee’s signing will be symbolic, because the agreement will be void by the time his two-year mission ends. (There’s little flexibility in the two-year mission length.)
Kramer reported that McKee’s family spoke with the NCAA and confirmed the next letter McKee signs (in either 2019 or 2020, presumably) will be binding by the time he’s back from his mission. This one won’t be, but McKee won’t plan to back out of it.
“If a head coach leaves or there are major changes in program, then maybe I re-evaluate,” the quarterback told Kramer. “But I’m not halfway in, halfway out unless something drastic happens.”
Signing McKee requires planning ahead.
Programs already think years ahead about how they’ll allocate their NCAA-limited 85 scholarship slots. That’s difficult work at any position, but it’s especially hard at QB. The average class includes one player at that position, maybe two if the timing’s right. The team that signs McKee in 2018 will, in theory, not have to worry about the position in 2020.
But QB recruiting works kind of like dominoes. Let’s say McKee is verbally pledged to Stanford in 2020: That would probably take the Cardinal out of the running in the early recruitment of other elite QBs for that year, because most top QBs don’t commit to classes that already have players like McKee in them. That’s just fine for Stanford as long as the Cardinal are sure they’ve got McKee, but they can’t be for another year.
It’s not the most dangerous game to play. If McKee doesn’t sign with Stanford again by February 2019, the Cardinal will know they need to look elsewhere for 2020, and they’ll have plenty of time. Still, it’s an unusual boat for a team to be in.
Another risk: The church could send McKee to a place where he can’t regularly work out in a gym or throw a football for two years. He could come back a different player or decide not to play college football for any number of reasons.
But McKee is a great QB prospect. He’ll be worth the wait.
He’s a listed 6’6 and 220 pounds. Whether McKee’s good in college or not, that frame means he’ll be a serious NFL draft prospect someday, if he wants to be. He drives the ball downfield with authority and accuracy. He’s not especially mobile, but he’s not a statue, either, and he’s considering schools that don’t require running QBs.
If McKee takes the field for the Cardinal, they will have spent at least three or four years working hard to get him. He’ll have the option of leaving for the NFL after his first season on campus, because he’ll have been out of high school three years by then. But the potential payoff of having him under center for a while makes all of that worth it.