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SAM GANGWER, SAM GANGWER, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Canyon High School football coach Brent McKee, center, stepped down from his position after the season ended.

Canyon's McKee hangs up the clipboard

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
:

He does it on his terms – in part to chase another campus goal.

When the fourth quarter came to a close Nov. 2, the players on Canyon High School's varsity team knew that their season was over.

What they didn't know was that it would be the last game of head coach Brent McKee's 23-year football career.

The past couple of years have been challenging for McKee, who had to leave the gridiron mid-season in 2011 to deal with cancer in one of his kidneys.

He returned this past fall for one last go.

While he's cancer-free again, McKee said the illness made him look at things differently. He's leaving coaching, he said, to make family a priority, and, hopefully, to become an assistant principal.

"I want to spend more time with my family," McKee said this week. "That's more important than high school football."

Strong words from a man who played football in his youth and discovered a passion for coaching.

"I'm going to miss the interaction with the kids," the coach said, "but at the same time, I'm excited about other possibilities in my life."

He's coached football at the Century League's Canyon High for 14 years, 13 of those as head coach.

"When I came here in 2000, I was the fourth coach in four years," McKee recalled. "I spent the next two years convincing the players I wouldn't go anywhere."

He didn't; McKee holds the school's record for coaching wins at 64.

His players still recall his stunning announcement in 2011 about his cancer, and that he would miss a big chunk of the season in recovery.

"We were all shocked," said junior Joe Madigan, 17, who plays at linebacker and fullback. "Because of that, I think, we started playing better. ...It made us fight harder when the season wasn't really going our way."

The Comanches finished with a 0-10 record that season, prompting McKee to coach one more fall.

"I didn't want to go out on 0-10, and I didn't want to go out on cancer's terms," he said.

In 2012, the team improved to 3-7, and defensive end and junior Justin Kirschner, 17, said he noticed a chance in McKee.

"My sophomore year, he was more in-your-face," Kirschner said. "This year, he was, 'This is your team.' ... He wanted players like us to become leaders of the team. That's something that's been missing from the team the last couple of years."

Though the season ended, McKee kept the secret until this month, after the school's banquet for the players: "I wanted the banquet to be about this year's seniors, not me."

Football is a year-round sport, McKee said, requiring training and practice outside of the fall season. He hopes the early announcement of his retirement will allow the school to find a replacement well before summer workouts. In the meantime, McKee will continue to teach math at the school – and spend time with his wife of seven years, Jill, and his children, Nathan, 5, and Molly, 3.

"This is new for me," the coach said. "I'm home at 3 o'clock."


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