Beyond Preps: Will McKee’s return to Kezar Stadium

Lehigh University freshman midfielder Will McKee, a St. Ignatius graduate, streaks up the field after an Ohio State turnover on Sunday at Kezar Stadium. (Photo by Doug Ko)

Lehigh University freshman midfielder Will McKee, a St. Ignatius graduate, streaks up the field after an Ohio State turnover on Sunday at Kezar Stadium. (Photo by Doug Ko)

By Jeremy Balan

Will McKee has played at Kezar Stadium more times than he can remember.

Playing football, lacrosse and soccer in four years at St. Ignatius Prep, big games were always at Kezar, but he didn’t wear the familiar red, white and blue uniform in his final appearance at the iconic stadium.

This time, he informally launched his college lacrosse career as a freshman midfielder for Lehigh University, which played Ohio State in the San Francisco Lacrosse Fall Classic on Sunday at Kezar.

The exhibition was one of two contests NCAA programs are allowed to play in a small window of fall practice time. It is the fourth year Kezar has hosted the event, always featuring top-tier college programs.

Lehigh freshman Will McKee signs an autograph for a fan after the San Francisco Fall Lacrosse Classic on Sunday at Kezar Stadium. (Photo by Doug Ko)

McKee, an Oakland native, relished the homecoming and played host on the tourist bus rides and trip to Alcatraz the team took.

“It feels so good to come back, especially on a weekend like this,” McKee said. “I miss the Bay Area so much. I even listened in on the [Bruce-Mahoney football game] on the radio, because the atmosphere [at Kezar], no matter what is going on, is just an awesome vibe.”

The Mountain Hawks, which finished the 2012 season with a 14-3 record and were ranked ninth nationally, even practiced at St. Ignatius on Saturday.

“It was so surreal to go back to SI,” McKee said. “Coming back to that field — I just have so many memories on that field. It was weird having a different jersey on.”

An elite faceoff specialist who was a first-team All-West Catholic Athletic League selection in lacrosse and a second-team All-City selection in football as a cornerback, had a far-from-storybook performance on the field Sunday, but still stayed nearly 30 minutes after the game chatting with friends, former teammates and local youth players after the game.

But he didn’t score a goal, make a huge run or tally an assist. In fact, he got most of his playing time in the reserve-dominated fifth period (both teams agreed to play five 15-minute quarters in the exhibition, rather than the standard four), but received an unexpected assignment to start the third.

In a bit of a welcome-to-college moment, McKee was sent out to take the opening faceoff of the third period, and was promptly dispatched by Ohio State senior midfielder Trey Wilkes, who pushed forward with ease to win the draw, starting an immediate fast break for the Buckeyes.

“That was a tough one for him,” Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese said with a chuckle and a wry smile. “I didn’t tell him I was going to throw him in there to start the second half, so I think it was a bit of a shock to him, but hopefully he appreciated getting in there early in the game.”

McKee is currently playing mostly in the defensive midfield for the Mountain Hawks, but has a chance to be their faceoff man of the future.

McKee playing against Monte Vista as a senior at St. Ignatius last season. (Photo by Devin Chen)

For now, he stands behind senior and second-team All-Patriot League faceoff specialist Ryan Snyder.

“He’s probably the best faceoff guy I’ve seen so far,” McKee said of Snyder. “He’s strong and he’s quick, which are two aspects that make a great faceoff guy. He’s been a mentor to me, so I’m not expecting to take every draw like I did in high school or anything like that.”

Lehigh eventually won 15-13 over the Buckeyes (which were ranked 18th nationally last season), and although he had moments of tentativeness, McKee seemed to be comfortable on the field.

At St. Ignatius last season, seven of his teammates were major college recruits, so he’s used to playing with and against Division I talent.

“We brought him in because he’s a tremendous athlete and a tremendous young man,” Cassese said. “There’s plenty of time to develop his total game and I see him as a two-way midfielder for us for the future.”

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