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How Tanner McKee says Latter-day Saint mission helped him step in as Stanford’s starting QB

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Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee scrambles out of the pocket against Southern California.

Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee, left, scrambles out of the pocket during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Southern California on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

It’s taken some time for Tanner McKee, who signed with Stanford in its 2018 recruiting class, to have the keys to the Cardinal’s offense handed over to him.

That delay was expected, though. Before joining the program, the Corona, California, native and one-time four-star recruit served a two-year mission in Curitiba, Brazil, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He returned in the spring of 2020, and played sparingly last year, before going into 2021 in a QB competition with senior Jack West. West earned the start in Stanford’s season opener, a 24-7 loss to Kansas State, but McKee replaced him late in the game and produced the team’s only scoring drive.

Since McKee took over for West in the opener, he’s started two games and won both for the Cardinal. Up next is a matchup against No. 24 UCLA this Saturday.

McKee said his mission experience has helped as he takes over a leadership role in the Stanford program.

“I think it’s helped a lot overcoming adversity,” McKee told the Los Angeles Daily News. “It’s obviously not easy going to a foreign country and not really knowing the language or any of the people. I feel like it just helped me mature as a person and as a leader.”

In his first career start, McKee helped Stanford knock off then-ranked USC 42-28 at the Coliseum, completing 16 of 23 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t sacked and also scored a rushing touchdown.

Last week, McKee led the Cardinal to a 41-23 win over Vanderbilt of the SEC. This time, he completed 19 of 29 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns and also had a rushing touchdown.

On the year, he’s thrown for 570 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, with a 71.4% completion percentage.

Stanford coach David Shaw, who has been the Cardinal’s coach since 2011, hasn’t shied away from successfully recruiting Latter-day Saint players who serve missions. There are currently five players from Utah on Stanford’s roster who have served LDS missions: inside linebacker Levani Damuni (Ridgeline High), fullback Houston Heimuli (Bountiful High), inside linebacker Spencer Jorgensen (Provo High), outside linebacker Tangaloa Kaufusi (East High) and outside linebacker Gabe Reid (Timpview High).

For those who have served missions, Shaw asks them to lean on that experience to help not only themselves but their teammates as well.

“You went on a mission for a reason: spiritual, intellectual and just natural growth,” Shaw told the Daily News. “I said ‘Let the guys in the locker room feel that. … You’ve been in the world and now you are in a locker room with a bunch of college kids that haven’t been in the world, they went straight from their parents’ house to college.’

“I think that’s what you get from Tanner, a gleaning of being out there in life, getting real life experience and having some gravity to when he talks about. And I’m excited for where he is and for what he can be both in and outside of football.”