SALT LAKE CITY — Having recently returned home from Brazil, future Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee is ready for the next chapter of his football career.   

Being a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil Curitiba South Mission for the past 21 months has taught the four-star recruit from Corona, California, many lessons, including how to deal with uncertainty. So he’s well-equipped to handle the current circumstances.

Due to the spread of COVID-19, McKee returned home about five weeks earlier than expected from Brazil, but he’s thankful that he was able to complete nearly the full two years of his mission. 

McKee is spending time with his family and observing the mandatory two-week self-isolation period required of all missionaries returning from foreign countries. And he’s been getting back into football mode — though right now nobody knows when football will return. 

“I feel super excited and grateful to be back. I’ve been at home, basically doing the same thing I did on my mission, using the (resistance) bands and working out by myself,” McKee told the Deseret News. “Every once in a while, we’ll go to the park, with just my family. My younger brother and my sister’s husband, who played soccer at BYU, run routes for me. It’s been great to come back and be able to watch film — my old games and watching old Stanford games.”

“Sometimes the coaches will record quarterback meetings and I’ll be able to watch them. It’s just great to be back and in it. My arm feels great. I feel like I can still put the ball where I want it.” — Tanner McKee

He’s also been communicating with Stanford coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard as well as studying the Cardinal playbook. 

“Sometimes the coaches will record quarterback meetings and I’ll be able to watch them,” said McKee, who left for his mission soon after graduating from Centennial High in 2018 and will be a true freshman when he enrolls at Stanford. “It’s just great to be back and in it. My arm feels great. I feel like I can still put the ball where I want it.”

A Deseret News reporter and photographer shadowed McKee last summer in Brazil and chronicled his missionary experience. The story detailed how he tried to stay in shape — he lost about 15 pounds of muscle through the first year of his mission. 

McKee, however, spent the last portion of his mission in the mission office in Curitiba and had access to a weight room. He and another missionary, a rugby player from Australia, were able to lift weights early in the mornings.

A different path

“Because we had that weight room in my last area, I think I gained back 10 pounds,” McKee said. “That was super nice. We worked out every morning and I was able to get a little bit back in shape. He threw the rugby ball and I threw the football. Now when I throw, my arm doesn’t really get sore. It’s nice to come back home and work out at full speed.”

As part of his assignment in the mission office, McKee was involved with the mass exodus of missionaries returning to their home countries in the wake of the pandemic. The original plan was to fly the American missionaries from Curitiba to Sao Paulo and then from Sao Paulo to the United States. But because so many flights were being canceled, the mission decided to rent buses. 

“It was pretty crazy. A couple of days before we left, there were some people that were stopping big buses and trashing the buses because people weren’t social distancing,” McKee said. “It was super dangerous to go by bus. So we got a flight to Sao Paulo. The church chartered six flights from Sao Paulo to the United States. There were hundreds of missionaries on each flight from all over Brazil that came to Sao Paulo to LAX on those chartered flights.”

Elder Tanner McKee, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, works out in his home in Paranaguá, Brazil, on Monday, June 3, 2019. McKee has had to be creative to keep up his workout regimen while on his mission. Here, he uses a makeshift barbell with blocks of concrete on each end, plus a resistance band under his feet. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

While McKee had a relatively short drive home from LAX —  “It was the first time I’ve gone from LAX to my house without any traffic,” he said — other missionaries had to book flights to airports close to their various homes. 

During his mission, McKee’s older sister, Kayla, a BYU student, married Cameron Cuvelier, son of Corey Cuvelier, McKee’s mission president. McKee had met his brother-in-law when Cameron visited Brazil.

Another son of Corey Cuvelier was serving in a different mission in Brazil and McKee happened to meet him on the trip home. 

“We saw each other in the Sao Airport airport and said, ‘Dude, our siblings got married,’” McKee said. “We started talking. It was cool.”  

Thanks to technology, he is enjoying the opportunity to stay connected with people he met in Brazil, especially last weekend, during the 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

Elders Tanner McKee, Adam Christensen, Nicolas Rodrigues, Pedro Cabral and Henrique Melo greet each other at the mission office in Curitiba, Brazil, on Monday, June 3, 2019. On transfer day, missionaries return to the office where they are assigned new companions and dispatched to a new area of the mission. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“It’s been great. With conference, I called people to make sure they were watching,” he said. “It’s amazing to be able to pick up a phone and send texts to people that you taught or to FaceTime a recent convert. It’s awesome.”

Originally, McKee was planning to report to Stanford on June 15 to start working out with the team and enrolling in classes. But with campuses closed throughout the country due to COVID-19, the future is up in the air. 

“I have no idea when anything’s going to happen. I don’t know if we’re going to do online classes during the summer or if we’re just going to go into the fall,” he said. “I assume that I’ll probably take a few classes online if the coronavirus doesn’t die down before then. Obviously, we’re still hoping that we can go up and do summer ball and get everything rolling before the season.”

Shaw has told McKee and his teammates to keep preparing as if the season will start on time this fall. Stanford is scheduled to host BYU on Nov. 28. 

“We just want to be prepared. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared,” McKee said. “We’re going to prepare like everything’s normal. If something does happen that’s out of our control, at least we’ll be overprepared instead of underprepared.” 

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As a newly returned missionary that’s been away from the game for two years, McKee’s situation was already somewhat uncertain as part of the process of starting college and trying to get back in shape.

“I’m going to do my best and go in prepared and see how I can contribute to the team. I don’t know how that’s going to be,” McKee said. “But if I do my part and I’m fully prepared mentally and physically, everything else will fall into place. I’m going to be a team player and do what I can do to help the team out.”

Meanwhile, he continues to draw upon his faith and his work ethic. His mission serves as a stepping stone for what comes next.

“It was a huge maturing experience. Living on my own for the first time, learning a new language, dealing with conflicts with people, people skills, how to start and keep a conversation going, how to plan and work hard for the future,” McKee said. “Ultimately, lots of spiritual things as well. I was kinda laying my foundation for my life after the mission.”

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