LONGMONT — This isn't how Nate McGregor's season was supposed to go.
This was supposed to be the fall in which McGregor, playing in his final campaign as a senior, would lead the Skyline football team on the deep playoff run it had been building towards for years. He was supposed to do so as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state.
McGregor had big plans for his senior year, and for the role he would play in leading the Falcons to their best season in the lifetimes of any current player. All of McGregor's grand plans seemingly evaporated in an instant when he suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle during the second quarter of the Falcons' season opener against Westminster.
A season that began with such optimism became an unexpected low point in the life of possibly the school's most talented multi-sport athlete. But while sophomore quarterback Chase Silva filled in to lead Class 4A in passing and the Falcons' season progressed, McGregor, who is a captain, remained a positive leadership presence on the team and eventually returned to action in a multitude of different roles.
His senior season hasn't gone to plan, but McGregor's willingness to do whatever it took to help Skyline win has been a major reason the Falcons reached their first state title game since 1999. On Saturday, McGregor will take the field one last time alongside his teammates at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, still with the opportunity to win the state championship he had envisioned from the beginning.
"It was really hard for me," McGregor, who also broke the same ankle during his junior season, said. "After it happened, I was pretty down for a while. But for me, helping our sophomore Chase (Silva) started to make me feel better and I started trying to focus on being a leader. I just wanted to be a part of the team. I just wanted to help.
"It's my last year and I don't know what I would have done if I couldn't have come back and been a part of the team. It feels really good to know that I will be out there with my brothers on Saturday."
As a junior, McGregor passed for 1,812 yards and 22 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions. He also ran for 727 yards and eight touchdowns, and helped lead the Falcons on their first trip to the postseason in 18 years.
He had completed five of eight pass attempts for 134 yards and two touchdowns before getting injured in this season's opener, and since his return McGregor has played wide receiver, tight end, tailback, quarterback, kick returner, punter, linebacker and defensive end. He has scored five touchdowns and is tied for second on the team with five tackles for loss.
"He's a great guy and he's always been a really positive voice," Falcons wide receiver Kyle West said. "When he was injured and he was on the sideline, it was really hard for him. We knew we had to come together as a brotherhood and always support him through everything because it's our senior season and it's the last season that a lot of us will ever play. We just really wanted to be close with him.
"Now that he's back, he's putting everything into it and he's really stepped up for the team. He's great in film study, he's been huge on defense, he's made some huge catches and some huge blocks on offense to get me and Jack (Wathen) free. He's our guy and we really appreciate him."
Immediately upon receiving the news that he had broken his ankle for the second time in as many seasons, McGregor thought he would miss the entirety of this senior season. He made it back to help the No. 9 seed Falcons, who won just two games three years ago, upset their way through No. 8 Pueblo West, No. 1 Pine Creek and No. 5 Ponderosa, and into the 4A state title game.
On Saturday, the Falcons (10-3) will take on the No. 2 Loveland Indians (13-0) in the state championship game. McGregor will be right there among them and that is all, maybe even more, than he could have asked for out of his senior season.
"I just get super excited for this game when I think about what we've accomplished the past couple years and what it took to get us here," McGregor said. "I'm really stoked about it. Us seniors have stayed with each other for the longest time. We wanted to build Skyline up and start winning, and make people come to our games, and that's what we've done."