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High school football: Morley overcomes debilitating injury to help lead his team

SPANISH FORK — Ethan Morley playing football for American Leadership Academy is incredible, given his circumstances, and subsequently inspiring.

Morley took the field for the first time in four years, a little over two weeks ago, in a game against Duchesne. Although the Eagles ended up losing 15-6, the senior couldn't have been more excited to be out there.

“I feel great out there,” Morley said. “I think we can do some things this year that we haven’t been able to do for a long time. I have a great line and I really do love my teammates. I’m just excited to be out there and excited for the rest of the season.”

Morley's excitement stems from being able to do what was in serious doubt after he sustained debilitating back and hip injuries shortly after he completed the eighth grade. During a wrestling tournament that summer, Morley decided to compete against varsity wrestlers 30 pounds heavier.

Bad decision.

Early in the tournament, Morley was thrown across the mat and landed on his tailbone. Although hurting at the time, the fearless eighth-grader kept going, unaware of just how extensive his injuries were.

"I love wrestling and I didn't want to quit. I wanted to be tough," Morley recalled.

Soon after the tournament, Morley learned just how serious his injuries were.

“I couldn’t use my left (side) functionally for three or four months,” he said. “So I had to do physical therapy just to get running again, and even to walk properly. I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to and things I was used to doing. My entire world changed.”

Morley's world, up to that stage, heavily involved sports. But due to the extent of his injuries, doctors determined he couldn't participate in football, rugby, wrestling or even baseball.

He stayed on the sidelines until shortly after his sophomore year, when he started participating in rodeo. His participation didn't involve bouncing around on top of raging bulls, mind you, but in roping.

"I was like, 'no way I can do that,' when my dad first came to me, suggesting that I do it," Morley recalled. "But he kept on me and I learned to love it."

His participation in rodeo perhaps scratched an itch he had to participate in other sports, namely football. After a few sessions throwing around with his friends, while testing how his back would feel through weightlifting and other activities, Morley found that his back responded well.

He then determined to give football a final shot for his senior season, but first had to clear it through his father, Jedd Morley.

“At first he wouldn’t hear it. He was like, ‘There’s no way this is a good idea. I can’t let you do this,’” Morley said. “But I kept pushing, and when we went over everything, they let me do it and gave me their support.”

Given American Leadership's relatively small number of players, its coach, Nate Porter, was excited to have Ethan Morley join the team, despite never playing varsity football.

“He’s had all sorts of stuff, but he’s out here playing and we’re real lucky to have him,” Porter said. “His leadership has been huge for us and he’s just a super confident kid. Every play he thinks he’s going to hit a home run, and that’s his mentality. It’s great to have that, as a coach.”

Ethan Morley was able to engineer a 17-10 win over Layton Christian during his second week, running for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

“He looks like he’s been playing for the last three years. He hasn’t missed a beat,” Porter said. “I think with a little more time playing that he’ll really be able to take off and do some special things for us this year.”

For Ethan Morley, he's not only excited to be playing again, but he also hopes to provide inspiration to others. Indeed, a big part of his decision, which came after a lot of discussion and prayer, was to help others.

“I thought I could have a big influence on the team and the people at my school. That’s one of the biggest reasons. I felt there’s people out there I could help,” he said. “I just started to get a really good feeling about what doing this could bring about with myself and others. And I also just love playing football.”