GREGORY — Andy McCance's accomplishments are second to none.
In three years as Gregory High School's starting quarterback, McCance led the Gorillas to back-to-back 12-0 seasons that ended with Class 9AA state championships. He finished his career as Gregory's all-time leading passer, throwing for 6,228 yards, 89 touchdowns and just seven interceptions on 318 completions for a 29-4 record. This season was culmination of McCance's prep career as he went 117-of-185 passing for 2,578 yards, 40 touchdowns and two interceptions. He added 1,141 rushing yards and 41 more touchdowns. In total, he accounted for 81 touchdowns for an offense that averaged 47 points per game.
"I was able to have a great year and it's really a credit to the wide receivers making plays and the offensive line giving me time," McCance said. "It's awesome when you have four or five guys out there that you can throw the ball to. It really helps out."
If McCance were four inches taller, his coach Brian Allmendinger said, there would be Division I schools wearing out the roads to Gregory to recruit the nine-man standout. But at 5-foot-11, McCance is driven to prove that his height does not hamper him.
"It's not that big of deal if you get yourself in the right position at the right time. Just find a lane and make the throw," said McCance, who is leaning toward playing at the University of South Dakota but will be making a few other official visits in the next month.
However his future shakes out, McCance will always have the stellar prep career he earned, which helped him lead the Gorillas to three state titles in four seasons and unanimously selected as The Daily Republic's football player of the year.
Since 1994, The Daily Republic football player of the year has been selected by the newspaper's sports staff, and conducted via a point-based voting system that awards five points to the top player, four points to the second player on the ballot and so on. McCance received all three first-place votes, earning 15 points in the voting. He is the sixth player from Gregory to win the award and first since Jaden Bartling won it in 2012.
Other players receiving consideration were Gregory's Jayd VanDerWerff, Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central's John Witte, Corsica-Stickney's Cordel Menning and Blake Moke, Canistota/Freeman's Scott Jolley, Mitchell's Carson Max and Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan's Jamin Arend.
An accurate passer
Mastering the art of throwing the football is something McCance has worked on since he was 6 years old. He has fond memories of throwing the pigskin around in elementary school.
"It's just what we did during recess," McCance said. "It was always really competitive. That's how our whole team became competitive in the sport."
He started taking the quarterback position seriously in middle school and started training some in Sioux Falls as an eighth-grader.
As a freshman, he served as a backup to then-senior Kurt Braun when Gregory won a state title in 2014, completing two passes with one touchdown. He embraced the chance to become the full-time starter for the Gorillas as a sophomore and always put in extra time.
"He just loves to do it. During the summer, he'll get the guys together frequently and they'll go to the field and run routes," Allmendinger said. "He's really worked hard at it. It's not work to him, it's fun and enjoyment. He's spent a great deal of time on it."
With a strong work ethic and dedication to improving his throws, accuracy soon followed for McCance, who said timing with receivers was his biggest key.
"You are the leader out there and it's your responsibility to make the team do well," McCance said. "I learned to be comfortable in the moment and not let the game get too big. It's about staying even, don't get too high and don't get too low."
McCance's leadership skills at the quarterback position were on full display in his final game—the Class 9AA state championship game against Irene-Wakonda on Nov. 9. He utilized his legs to score his first two touchdowns on runs of 46 and 10 yards, respectively. Then he picked apart the Eagle defense hitting touchdown passes of 16, 18, 19, 35 and 32 yards. Possibly his best throw of the game came early in the first quarter when he floated a rainbow-esque pass into Caleb Stukel's hands for an 80-yard gain.
"He can put it right on the money," Allmendinger said. "You have to be a very good defender to try and stop that."
Allmendinger praised McCance's learning curve from his time as a sophomore starter to his senior season.
"As each year grew, the more we got on the same page. We had such a good rapport," Allmendinger said. "I was seeing what he was seeing and he was seeing what I was seeing. That chemistry made us a little more dangerous offensively because he understood the offense and how the defense was reacting."
McCance said his ability to read defenses helped him decide when he should try and run and when he should pass. As a true dual-threat quarterback, McCance utilized plenty of offensive weapons around him including VanDerWerff, Stukel, Blake Boes, Jon Bakke, J.J. Beck and Tyler Murray. All six had at least one touchdown reception this season for the Gorillas.
Allmendinger went as far to compare McCance to Brett Favre, noting the two quarterbacks played with a similar fearless mentality and gunslinger style.
"You live by it, you die by it. But guys are going to want to make plays for you," Allmendinger said. "Sometimes he'd make an ill-advised throw when he probably shouldn't. For everyone of the those (questionable) throws, there's 25 tremoundus throws. It's been a lot of fun to coach a young man like that. He's a good kid off the field too."
McCance added the Gorillas, who were ranked No. 1 all season, were motivated to not let any team knock them off.
"We wanted to go out on top," he said. "There's no place better to play and I've loved every second of it. I'm going to miss it. I'll miss the Friday nights with the boys and the high school atmosphere."
Here's a look at the other players who received consideration, with point totals in parentheses:
Jayd VanDerWerff (7): Another Gorilla, VanDerWerff was hampered by an injury for his senior season but finished with 735 yards on 32 receptions and a school record 15 touchdowns. The future Jackrabbit also ran 57 times for 457 yards and three touchdowns and was a constant playmaker on defense for the two-time defending state champions.
John Witte (7): A senior, Witte led the Blackhawks to a 9-2 inaugural season in Class 11B at running back. He finished with 1,775 yards on 239 carries and 26 touchdowns, while adding 251 receiving yards and making 73 tackles and two interceptions on defense.
Cordel Menning (7): Corsica-Stickney's 6-foot-4 senior fullback racked up 702 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, helping the Jaguars reach the Class 9A state championship game. He also was the Jaguars leading tackler on defense, recording 88 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Jamin Arend (4): The Seahawk's junior playmaker ended up carrying the bulk of offensive load for Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan after backfield-mate Cole Gassman was lost for the season in Game 3. He ran for 1,272 yards on 169 carries and had 20 touchdowns, helping the Seahawks to the Class 11B championship game.
Blake Moke (2): As Corsica-Stickney's quarterback, Moke had a breakout junior season for the Jaguars, leading them to the Class 9A championship game. Moke threw for 1,192 yards, 23 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while rushing for 327 yards and nine touchdowns. He added two interceptions and 53 tackles on defense.
Carson Max (2): Plagued by injuries for most of the season, Mitchell's do-everything fullback and linebacker led the Kernels in tackles with 83 in eight games. He added three sacks, while rushing for 506 yards and six touchdowns. The junior also had one receiving touchdown as Mitchell reached the Class 11AA semifinals for the third straight season.
Scott Jolley (1): As a senior, Jolley successfully moved from the quarterback position to running back for the Pride in 2017. He ran for 1,465 yards and 21 touchdowns and made 97 tackles. He had four 200-yard rushing games for Canistota/Freeman this season.
Previous award winners: 1994: Josh Ranek, Bon Homme; 1995: Josh Ranek, Bon Homme; 1996: Glen "Andy" Thomas, Gregory; 1997: Jeff Schultz, Freeman; 1998: Chris Mikkelsen, Gregory; 1999: Chad Greenway, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2000: Chad Greenway, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2001: Tim Dacy, Gregory; 2002: Justin Horn, Tripp-Delmont; 2003: Michael Veskrna, Gregory; 2004: Doug Carlson, Howard; 2005: Jim Williams, Hanson; 2006: Jake Steffen, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2007: Josh Endres, Emery-Ethan; 2008: Earv Archambeau, Avon; 2009: Jayd Knodell, Winner; 2010: Jeb Olsen, Canistota; 2011: Jason Greenway, Mitchell 2012: Jaden Bartling, Gregory; 2013: Brandon Kocmich, Avon; 2014: Luke Loudenburg, Howard; 2015: Windsor Barry, Winner; 2016: Spencer Neugebauer, Mitchell; 2017: Andy McCance, Gregory