Jalynnee McGee still cherishes the six rushing touchdowns that tied a Skyview single-game school record last week in the first playoff football game of his high school career.
When the Storm were in the red zone again late in the fourth quarter of their 49-0 shutout of Federal Way, and the outcome comfortably in hand, McGee was eager for touchdown No. 7, but coaches pulled back the reins.
McGee understood, but he’s still grateful. Because football now means something bigger — on every carry, every down — for the senior, who needed 10 months to recover from a foot injury that prematurely ended his 2018 season. Doctors told McGee he could return to 100 percent health, but it wouldn’t be easy.
That became McGee’s mission.
“I took that,” said McGee, 17, “and ran with it.”
And he’s running in a big way in his final high school season. Back 100 percent healthy, McGee is a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time with an area-high 26 rushing touchdowns. This week, he was named 4A Greater St. Helens League offensive player of the yeaer and is a key piece to a Skyview team seeking its first 4A state playoff win since reaching the state semifinals in 2016.
Saturday, Storm (8-2) happen to face the same opponent — Woodinville (9-1) — that ended its 2018 season in the first round of state. The two face off again at 5 p.m. at Bothell’s Pop Keeney Stadium at the same venue the Falcons won last year’s contest, 34-21, in McGee’s absence.
Expectations are different this time.
“There’s no doubt in our minds,” McGee said. “Our confidence is way higher. No matter who we are up against on the field, we can go out and play with anybody.”
For McGee, it’s been a long, but rewarding road back to health in a prep career that started at Heritage. He transferred to Skyview as a sophomore and is the team’s only three-year starter.
But October 2018 against Camas is when McGee suffered a Lisfranc injury — damaged ligaments in the middle part of his right foot — on a run play. The injury didn’t impact any bones, but was severe enough to require surgery for torn ligaments, three months of physical therapy and sidelined from football activity through much of the summer.
For four months, McGee couldn’t walk without the assistance of crutches or a protective boot, and even when he was cleared for spring ball, sat out those practices and summer team camp at Western Oregon as a precaution.
“It took everything out of me,” McGee said. “It was tough being around football, even though it was what I love.
“But I was so ready. I just wanted to go.”
That came in time for mid-August. McGee’s played in all 10 games this season with touchdowns in nine. He no longer plays defense, where he started at safety last season. Load management is why the senior sticks to offense, and he’s made the most of it.
The 1,108 rushing yards (7.5 per carry) and 26 touchdowns are career highs. He had a career-best 32 carries in a 30-3 win over Union, and in last week’s win over Federal Way to secure a state playoff spot for the second straight year, he averaged 10.9 yards per carry.
McGee’s team nickname of Houdini got coined by offensive line coach Eric Reid, said all-league receiver and defensive back Mason Wheeler. Wheeler doesn’t shy from calling McGee the best back in the state, and when McGee runs the ball, it’s just different like magic.
“I think it’s pretty fitting,” Wheeler said. “This guy can go, and there’s nothing like it. … It changes everything on the field.”
At 5 feet 10 and 200 pounds, McGee admits he’s changed player now, and a different type of back. The blitzing speed might not be where it was the past two seasons, he said, but the strength is better than ever. He’s also grown more by waiting for the holes to open up by the offensive line.
“A lot of times running a play, McGee said, “I’ll go 50 to 60 percent up until the line, until I see something open up, and then burst. That’s when I fully hit it.”
And all of this has McGee gaining more appreciation for the game — cherishing one carry at a time.
“I used to take it for granted,” he said. “It’s never a guarantee you’re going to play the next down.”