Putting it all in perspective
He just had to be there. Kyle Morton didn’t mince words. He was going to be at J. David Ramsey Stadium Friday night, when the host Bear River Bruins and the Nevada Union Miners hit the same football field for the first time in six years.
After all, after growing up a Bruin and later starring as a Miner, Morton had friends on both sides of the ball. He was not going to miss this. There was only one place he would have rather been than on that NU sideline: standing shoulder to shoulder with his teammates in the Miner defensive huddle.
But that couldn’t be.
A senior season comes around just once. And unfortunately for Morton, his was over before it got started, leaving him to wonder “what if” as he watched his teammates take the field against the Bruins Friday night.
If he could do it all over again, Morton says he would have never climbed to the top of those rocks that late July day at Pinecrest Lake near Yosemite- even if the 60-foot dive into the water was as exhilarating as his first attempt was, and especially not if he realized before his second attempt that his soaking-wet sneakers would create such a slippery surface.
“I fell all the way to the bottom,” he said of the fall, during which the thought of his mother having to identify his body came to mind. “My feet hit on the rock and I heard my own back break. I hit so hard that my shoes were completely wrapped around my knee caps. I hit so hard it pushed my feet through my shoes.
“I tried to yell ‘help,’ but I couldn’t say anything. It knocked the wind out of me.”
It was like one of those dreadful dreams, where you try to shout but nothing comes out. And it all seemed like a dream after his body had bounced off the boulder and into the water. He really thought he was OK, as the state of shock allowed him to ignore the immediate pain and actually stand on his shattered ankles.
But those on hand told him otherwise, while studying the large lump swelling at the base of his lower back.
“They were right,” he said. “One of my vertebrae was what they call a ‘wedge fracture’ (or compression fracture), but another completely exploded and that was the big lump.”
The doctors at a Modesto hospital later confirmed that his injuries from the fall would, in fact, result in his worst fears coming true. His senior season, the year he had so looked forward to, was over. He has since had two surgeries, one on an ankle and another on his back, which doctors told him the shattered vertebrae came within an eighth of an inch of severing his spinal cord.
“I was just depressed because I’ve been playing football since the fourth grade and last year, my junior year, I had a great year,” he said. “And then this happened.”
His junior campaign as a 5-foot, 10-inch, 180-pound middle linebacker was an award-winning one. He was named All-Metro Conference first team and was bestowed with the Miners’ annual “Hardest Hitter” award. His career continued on the upswing this year as he was named “Player of the Camp” at a summer defensive camp.
“I was so excited about this year,” he said. “I was leading the team, the younger kids were listening to me and then this freak accident ruined everything. I was mad. My senior year is completely wrecked because of some stupid rock, something I wouldn’t do again. I had just got done with that football camp and was looking to have some fun.”
He wasn’t the only one in his family saddened by the sudden end to his high school playing days. His father Dave, who coached football for more than 20 years – including a stint as a Bear River assistant, and his mother, Dee, had their own hearts broken just watching their son try and mend his own.
But then came even more horrific news. A family friend, Dustin Welch, died in a skateboarding accident two days after Kyle’s fall. Dustin was the older brother of Kyle’s former Bruin teammate Lance Welch, who carried the ball in the Bear River backfield Friday night.
“That put football into perspective, that’s for sure,” said Dave.
For Dee, a nurse, her son not only was lucky to live but also still be able to walk, nevermind that he insists he will play football at the college level once he has fully recovered.
“I’ve talked with quadriplegics and paraplegics and it seems that every one of them had stories to tell about when they were 17 and something happened to them,” Dee said. “Rock jumping is just something they do around here. And I had been telling him that (it wasn’t safe) all summer, but what are you going to do? It’s in one ear and out the other.
“The good thing was that he was in the best physical condition of his life before he fell. I swear that’s what saved him.”
His teammates saved him from a bout of depression recently, when Dee decided to get him out of the house and drove him up to a team practice. Once he arrived, the busy boys on the football field immediately turned their attention to their teammate struggling to walk on his own.
“It was like a scene out of a movie,” Dee said. “It was so emotional. He had been really depressed. For a while after he came home, there was somebody over every night. But then school started and they had practice, too. So he started to get depressed.
“I just told him ‘Get in the car, we’re going to practice.’ This was only a week after the surgery (on his back) but he would not get in the wheelchair, he wanted to walk (with the use of a walker).”
Considering what he’s been through in the past six or so weeks, Kyle looked surprisingly strong as walked the sideline Friday, taking the time to wave and smile at well-wishers from the crowd and encourage his NU teammates.
“This is depressing,” he said. “I mean, it’s good to see people tonight, especially after being in bed for so long. I had to be here. I had to see this. I had to root for my team and make sure to get in our linebackers’ ears if they’re not filling (the gaps).”
He said also had to see one of his closest friends on the opposite sideline.
“There he is,” Kyle said, pointing to Lance after another run for the Bruins. “It feels good to see him. I didn’t talk to him until a week ago. I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could say.
“But it was good to see him tonight and give him a big, old, fat hug.”
Though he was a bit busy with the ball in his hands Friday night, something tells me that Lance would probably have said the exact same thing.”
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4240.
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The Nevada Union Junior Miners Football and Cheer teams traveled to Roseville to take on the Oakmont Junior Vikings in Sacramento Youth Football League action last Saturday.