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Heart of a Lion: Valley Christian quarterback of Roseville finds inspiration after tragedy

By: Ike Dodson■of the Roseville Press Tribune
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Hobbled by a dented tibia and damage to both his ACL and MCL, Micah Gunter propped a crutch under each arm and carefully shuffled onto the artificial turf field at Highlands High, where his Valley Christian Academy football team was still celebrating an unthinkable 22-19 come-from-behind victory over Livermore Valley Charter Prep Saturday.

Like always, he had an important job to do for the Lions.

Gunter broke the news that injuries sustained at the prior week’s blowout loss to large-school Kennedy would sideline him for the entire football season.

The smallest football program in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section is now without its only captain, starting quarterback and safety.

“Some of my close teammates, they got emotional,” Gunter said. “They were tearing up, but just I told them to step up and take over the season.”

His timing was no mistake. Multiple doctor visits that week and the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Boris Ellyason from Kaiser’s Department of Orthopedics/Sports Medicine had confirmed Friday what the Gunter family feared.

“The (doctor’s) quote was ‘top bone hit the bottom bone, and the bottom bone lost’,” Micah’s father, basketball coach, baseball coach and VCA athletic director Brad Gunter said. “The Doctor said it looked like somebody took a baseball bat and smashed it on top of the tibia, because there is a huge dent on the top. He also has a strained MCL and a little damage to his ACL.

“We found out he can’t put weight on it for four weeks and it is a three-month recovery process.”

Micah intentionally waited to break the news after Valley Christian’s game against LVCP.

“I just didn’t want to add to the disappointment of losing to Kennedy with news of me being out,” Micah said. “I didn’t want them to go in with any more disappointment and I wanted them to stay pumped for the game.”

Early evaluations by a team of Kaiser specialists indicate that Micah won’t require surgery that would prolong the recovery process, but his return to the basketball court in December hinges on his body’s ability to heal.

A three-sport standout, Micah has an opportunity to play college baseball, so his return to VCA athletics will not be rushed, but losing out on the rest of his football career is devastating.

“Micah and I cried together twice,” coach Gunter said. “Once, driving home from the game and again after we found out he was out three months.

“We agreed that the second time was the last of tears we would shed over it.”

Micah hasn’t allowed his own tragedy to give way to depression.

He spent last week crutching about the VCA campus, recruiting students to join the football team and bolster a roster that included just 16 players last week. Five of his classmates agreed, and will be eligible once they complete their 10th practice of the season.

Micah’s a good self-motivator, but another Valley Christian student inspires his energy and positive attitude.

Taylor Larkin is an 11-year-old Valley Christian elementary student known throughout the athletic programs for her support of VCA teams. She cheered on her brother, Aaron Perchaz, who shined in three sports for VCA before playing football for Menlo College and joining the military. Her Dad, Shawn Larkin, is a former Lions’ football coach.

Taylor was diagnosed with leukemia, but still found the strength to attend VCA games (including a 2014 football scrimmage) and encourage her friends.

Knowing the difficulties Taylor faces with frequent hospital visits as she remains a homeschooled student for VCA, Micah said he can’t feel sorry for himself.

“I know what I’m going through is nothing nearly as tough as what Taylor Larkin is going through,” Micah said. “I’ve known Taylor for a long time and to watch her fight this battle with cancer has been really motivating.

“It makes you step back and realize things differently.”

Taylor’s family was the recipient of Valley Christian’s variation of the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” by which students and staff recently raised over $1,000 for her medical costs.

Micah has always been in Taylor’s corner and he’s determined to fight through his own recovery with her struggle on his mind.  Since the injury, his attitude, leadership on campus and strength off the field has already inspired others.

“His big sign of character is way more important to me than any football game,” Coach Gunter said. “I’m a pretty proud dad.”

Email Ike Dodson at iked@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Ike_Dodson.