ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — All high school football players are anxious to get back on the field and play again after the long COVID layoff. For one local football player COVID-19 has only been one hurdle standing between him and the playing field.
This is the type of play Micah Gearhart can make for Winnebago…darting into the backfield from his linebacker spot and bringing down an opposing ballcarrier, or at running back galloping through a defense to the endzone for a touchdown. Unfortunately Winnebago fans haven’t seen as much of that as they’d like to because Gearhart has been riddled with injuries since his freshman year.
That freshman year he had a partially torn quad. His sophomore year after week three he needed surgery for a torn ACL, torn MCL and torn meniscus. His junior year he missed the last five weeks of the season after suffering a concussion. Later his junior year during track & field season he suffered another torn meniscus. And just a couple months ago he fractured a wrist while lifting weights.
“The hardest one was probably the ACL just because it was such a long recovery,” said Gearhart.
Was there ever a time after one of those injuries when you thought, ‘I might not be able to play football ever again?
“After the ACL it was questionable. A lot of people had been there with me and they asked me are you going to play again?”
Gearhart’s parents Mike and Megan were at the games when the injuries happened. Mike helps with stats. Megan is a physical therapist at her day job, but during football games she’s Winnebago’s team photographer.
“The concussion was proabably actually the hardest for me to deal with,” said Megan. “I’m comfortable with orthopedics being with what I work in, so I kind of new what to expect.”
Gearhart has spent so much time in rehab he probably knows more about it than half the therapists do in Rockford. After each injury he buckled down and went to work doing whatever he needed to do to repair his body.
Did you ever consider, you know, just throwing in the towel and not trying to come back from all of these?
“No I just saw the injury as an obstacle that you overcome and once you overcome the obstacle there will be something waiting for you.”
“He’s a tough kid. He’s very tough yea,” said his mother.
“At first you don’t think he can come through, he’ll have another problem,” said Mike Gearhart. “You just keep going and going and going and all of a sudden he gets hit with another dilemma, so it’s one step forward and two steps back. Yea, thankfully he’s got the initiative and the drive to keep going.”
Gearhart is healthy now and ready to roll into his senior season. Winnebago coach Mark Helm says Gearhart is a big piece to the puzzle for Winnebago’s football team and he’s an inspiration to his teammates and coaches.
“It’s just that competitive drive that he has to compete. I love that in him. He’s kind of that emotional leader too. The other kids feed off him. His intensity. His physicality.”
What have all of these trials taught Gearhart?
“I’d say a life lesson just kind of enjoy it when you have it. Don’t take it for granted.”
Gearhart’s first game back and Winnebago’s first game of the season will be next Saturday in Mendota against Stillman Valley.