SALT LAKE CITY — The highly touted prospect, a strong-armed quarterback who is a member of the LDS Church, has everything BYU needs to bolster a sagging football program.
Yet, one week before national signing day, the best uncommitted high school quarterback is not expected to sign with his church-sponsored school. Tanner McKee, the prized recruit from Southern California, has not included BYU among his final five choices, according to Bleacher Report.
In the messy world of recruiting, finishing in second place counts as much as fifth or 50th. BYU’s basketball program knows this fact, being in contention for high-end talent before losing out to Duke for the likes of Chris Burgess, Jabari Parker and Frank Jackson. But for a program that desperately needs to regain traction after a miserable 4-9 season, it is a blow to not make McKee’s final five.
The era of cleaning up most of the LDS talent apparently is long gone. As an example, for a long time, Utah didn’t expend much effort recruiting Utah County, but now the program has no qualms about mining BYU’s backyard.
"Back in the day, BYU didn’t have to recruit very hard to get a player — especially if you’re talking about a missionary (who) is a member of the church,” former Utah coach Ron McBride said on 97.5-FM and 1280-AM The Zone. “Basically, the recruiting was already done. And plus, they had a national name. BYU was known across the country.”
The Cougars need an infusion of talent, particularly with all the quarterback struggles last season. Even though McKee is planning to serve a church mission before enrolling, thereby delaying his college career for two years, BYU could have gained recruiting momentum if he would have committed to Kalani Sitake’s program.
Instead, as Bleacher Report has reported, McKee will pledge to play for Washington, Alabama, Stanford, Texas or Texas A&M. It is understandable to a recruit from California to consider two great Pac-12 teams and the nation’s best program, but BYU should make the cut above the two Texas schools.
As it stands, BYU’s football staff is trying to strengthen its relationship with the quarterback and his family. Much can change in the two years McKee is expected to be away from football on his mission.
“There’s a different story for every recruit,” former BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland said on the DJ and PK morning show. “BYU is not always going to be the perfect fit, even as a member of the church.”
Yeah, but that’s the problem, McKee appeared to be the perfect fit. Here’s a kid who wouldn’t break the Sabbath to throw at The Opening, the Elite 11 camp’s biggest recruiting event of the year. His father told Bleacher Report that he probably would have participated on the Sunday, but his son “didn’t even blink an eye about not playing.”
Going back several years, BYU has lost big-time talent to other programs in basketball and football. On both sides of the recruiting game, many college programs and LDS athletes have become more sophisticated, meaning BYU is no longer the automatic destination.
Understandably, Utah has benefitted greatly from recruiting LDS athletes in all sports. Stanford, among most Pac-12 programs, has made it a priority to sign LDS recruits.
“There’s a lot of choices,” Cleveland said. “Even for LDS student-athletes, BYU is not the end-all for them, and we’ve seen that. I don’t think that people from BYU or members of the church should be offended by that, and certainly not the football coaches.”
This is true — with one caveat.
Historically, given an illustrious tradition at the position, BYU does not often fail to secure top-ranked quarterbacks. While they may not match the hype — as was the case with Ben Olson, Jake Heaps and to-date Tanner Mangum — BYU usually attracts the best LDS quarterbacks.
“I would put up BYU against anyone as a wonderful place to come to go to school, to represent their family and faith, to play sports at the highest level,” said former BYU tight end and current athletic administrator Chad Lewis.
Apparently, McKee’s interest in BYU dropped after Sitake fired offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. To be fair, new coordinator Jeff Grimes and his staff of new assistant coaches didn't have enough time to develop a strong relationship with McKee, as they are now doing with Jacob Conover, a star quarterback in Arizona who is also LDS in the Class of 2019.
McKee understands the transient nature of the coaching profession, telling Bleacher Report: “Coaches are huge, but they bounce around. Even college programs, in general, are up and down. You have to judge it all together — the program, the coaches and players — to make a decision, and you have to envision being there for four years.”
For now, anyway, McKee doesn’t see himself being at BYU.