While 2019 was a tough year for football-playing schools in the Finger Lakes High School Athletic Association, individual players shined all the brighter through the adversity of the new Federation-style schedule. That adversity included an ongoing struggle to fill rosters, resulting in numbers disparities against schools with more student-athletes.
Several FLHSAA teams showed they had just as much, if not more heart, than their opponents. The likes of Geneva, Pal-Mac, Penn Yan and Waterloo put their grit, determination and skills on display in several memorable games this past fall — Geneva’s standout victory over Hornell, Palmyra-Macedon’s Class B sectional upset of Batavia, and Penn Yan’s high-scoring loss to East Rochester/Gananda.
The latter contest was one of the reasons Penn Yan Academy junior Mekhi Mahan was named the Finger Lakes Times Offensive Player of the Year.
When learning he had been named to this award, Mahan’s soft-spoken humility came to the forefront.
“I was kind of shocked,” Mahan said. “It’s my second year of football, and it’s just great. It’s a big accomplishment for me.”
After a Week 5 victory over Waterloo, Penn Yan senior quarterback Kyle Berma found out he broke his foot in the second half — despite playing the entire game. In an emergency move, Mustangs head coach Tim McBride put Mahan, a running back, in as a break-the-mold quarterback, and the junior’s athletic ability was put on full display.
Simply put, Mahan went off. The two-sport athlete rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two more against ERG, totaling 349 all-purpose yards.
“I was ready, but I didn’t think I was going to play quarterback,” Mahan said. “I told coach, ‘If you need someone, I’ll definitely do it.’ I was willing to play any spot that would help us.”
As coach McBride put it, it would be the worst game Mahan would play as quarterback because “he’s only going to get better from here.”
That’s exactly what Mahan did.
Over the final games of the season, Mahan finished with 485 yards rushing, 481 yards passing, 265 yards receiving, seven passing touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns — and that’s just on offense. He ended up with 101 tackles on defense, including a sack, and was a candidate for FLT Defensive Player of the Year, also.
“Mekhi is an incredibly versatile athlete,” McBride said. “We were able to utilize him in a variety of different positions. When he’s our running back, he’s our best running back. When he’s our receiver, he’s an accomplished receiver. When we put him in at quarterback, he was very dangerous because as well as he ran the ball, he could throw the ball as well ... he caught some teams off guard.”
Looking forward to his senior season, Mahan aims to return to the backfield as a running back. Although he would excel at quarterback — likely in any position, for that matter — the junior star feels he is truly at his best when toting the ball.
“I want to be recognized as a running back, not as a quarterback, ” Mahan said. “If we do need (a quarterback) next year I’ll do the same, but I just want people to see me as a running back.”
This much we can predict about 2020: Mahan will be the first name circled on every opposing coach’s game plan against the Mustangs.