Favorite athlete: Zach Ertz
Favorite team: Penn State Football
Favorite memory competing in sports: Beating Perk Valley in a 2018 muddy playoff game
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that’s happened while competing in sports: While practicing PAT snaps, I accidentally hit my special teams coach in the side of the head with the ball.
Music on my playlist: Often I listen to country music, however my pre-game playlist is mostly Metallica, Nirvana, etc.
Future plans: I plan to attend Messiah University to major in Nursing
Words to live by: “Work for a cause, never for applause.”
One goal before turning 30: Become an emergency medical evacuation nurse (MedEvac helicopter)
One thing people don't know about me: I spend as much free time as I can out in the woods hunting or on a lake fishing.
By GORDON GLANTZ
Dick Butkus. Chuck Bednarik. Jack Lambert. Junior Seau. Ray Nitschke. Nick Buoniconti. Andre Tippett. Bill Bergey. Willie Lanier.
All have two things in common: They are among a long list of the best middle linebackers of all-time, and all played the game of football with a nasty disposition.
Where does that leave Quakertown senior Micah Kunkle at a school that has its own recent history of fire-breathing middle linebackers – Nick Levinski (Moravian), Noah Wood (Ithaca), Hunter Nice (semipro in Australia)?
“He’s probably one of the nicest middle linebackers we’ve ever had,” said head coach George Banas. “I’m not sure if that’s what you want to be remembered for or not.”
So how does Kunkle walk the fine line between getting the job done, with plenty of room to spare, without being mean about it?
Preparation and more preparation.
And when he is done preparing, he prepares some more.
“It’s not necessarily intentional,” said the 5-10, 190-pounder. “I try to be intense on the field, but I try not to carry that with me everywhere. I try not to be aggressive and intense off of it. I just try my best to encourage my teammates, whether I’m in the game or not in the game.
“But, yeah, I’m definitely a different person on the field than I am when I’m not on the field.”
By the time he walks onto a field come Friday night or Saturday afternoon, Kunkle may as well have the other team’s playbook in his hip pocket.
“He is a highly intellectual player,” said Banas of the two-year starter who also plays some tight end on offense. “He’s just real methodical on the field in terms of progressing though reads and making plays.”
Kunkle concurred with this assessment, adding: “Oh yeah, for sure. My main stuff is knowing my reads. The plays I make are based off my reads. It’s based off of watching a lot of film and knowing what an opposing team likes to do and what their tendencies are. That prepares me for playing football more than just being instinctive.”
Banas said the coaching staff sort of tabbed Kunkle to be an apprentice at linebacker going back to his sophomore year.
“We were hopeful,” he said. “Every 2-3 years, a sophomore is able to come in at linebacker and work next to a veteran. He understood the game. He was physically up to the challenge by the time he was a junior.”
Kunkle – the son of Ben and Krista Kunkle -- said it dates back his freshman year, when he was approached by Banas after a wrestling practice.
“He said that you work hard in the offseason and learn a lot and watch a lot of film, you’ll have a chance to play under the lights this year,” he recalled. “That really got me excited. Then we started doing summer stuff and I started learning backside middle linebacker from a senior. At that time, it was Nick Levinski. He really took me under his wing. He was a really good mentor.”
And now, Kunkle is paying it forward with Kaden Roesener.
“He was injured his sophomore season, so he really just started playing high school football this year,” said Kunkle. “He is the other starting linebacker. I try to answer all his questions, with anything he needs to know, and he has taken off with it. It’s great.”
Being at the epicenter of the defense, part of Kunkle’s role is leadership – and he is one by example and by being vocal when needed.
“He is a little bit of both,” Banas said of the team captain. “He leads by example just by being at every single offseason session, but he verbally takes control in the huddle.”
Kunkle is comfortable with that assessment, saying: “I’ve always tried to lead by example, at least as much as I can. That means just doing all the little things right. I try not to cut corners to take short cuts. That just leads to a mentality of not working as hard as we should.”
When it comes to the alternate reality of the COVID era, the coaches cannot be around all the time to police the team. This is another area where Kunkle has stepped up to the leadership challenge.
This meant not much team lifting in the offseason, two-a-days or 7-on-7 leagues.
“We came into the season with less preparation than we would have liked,” said Kunkle. “It’s been a very different season. We had a lot to fit in, and I think we did it pretty well in what was a short amount of time.”
For this achievement, Banas points right at his leaders – and Kunkle, specifically.
“He has handled it really well, inside and outside of the high school, and it is just him still being that leader by example,” said Banas, who is grateful that his team (5-2) is preparing for game eight of a nine-game season. “He’s been a big help with everything.”
Kunkle admits it’s not always fun to be “that guy” admonishing teammates about social distancing and wearing masks, but he knows that’s his role.
“It’s tough to be the ‘goody two shoes,’ or whatever, but it’s also about respecting others,” he said. “You are protecting others from what you might have. You are on a team where your brothers are around you, you don’t want to get them sick and get your season shut down.”
Aside from being a leader in the COVID area, a big part of that role is keeping players grounded and focused in what is a sport where emotion is required but too much can backfire, whether it is overrunning a play or drawing yellow laundry from an official.
“He’s good at talking kids down,” said Banas.
Said Kunkle: “I just try to keep everybody calm. Tensions run high in games, you know. I have also had to rein myself in a few times as well. One time, specifically, this one guy from Upper Moreland was just really ragging on me and it was really getting on my nerves. It started getting too intense with some shoving a little bit, and I was like, ‘Wait, wait – I can’t get involved in that.’ When other people do it, I just try to keep them calm and bring them back to the huddle.”
At the same time, he is able to motivate himself.
Banas points to a recent game against William Tennent when Kunkle was clearly hobbled by an injury but still managed a long reception at tight end, 15 tackles and a pick-six on defense (second career interception, first defensive touchdown).
“It all culminated for him in that game against William Tennent,” said Banas. “He was limping around, but he wasn’t coming out.”
A devout Christian, Kunkle took no personal credit for the performance.
“It was probably the best game I ever played,” he said. “But it was not my ability. It wasn’t me that did it. I mean, yes, it was me, but it was God’s plan. He gave me the ability to have a game like that.
“You are not always going to have the best game of your life.”
In addition to playing linebacker and tight end, Kunkle is the team’s long and short snapper on punts and field goals.
“It’s such a tough thing to find,” said Banas, who often has to hold open tryouts to find players able to master a skill that isn’t noticed until something goes wrong.
In the case of Kunkle, who entered high school as a snapper, it was like the coaching staff woke up and found money under their pillows.
“So, my dad, was never a long snapper himself,” Kunkle explained. “He was a guard and a defensive tackle. I was in seventh grade and just starting football. I had never played midgets or anything. He said that one way I could get onto the field was to learn to long snap or short snap and play on special teams. He said it would make me a shoo-in for varsity-level football.
“Little did I know how much time it would take to master it. But, in 10th grade, our snappers weren’t getting the job done quite as well as the coaches would have liked. They were looking for anybody who could do it. I became the long snapper in 10th grade. I was the long snapper and short snapper by 11th grade.”
Eye on the Future
When he was seven years old, Kunkle was fielding pop flies in the backyard from his dad when he misjudged the ball and found himself not only in the emergency room with a broken eye socket but with his first concussion.
After later emerging from CHOP with a patch over his good eye to strengthen the bad eye (now the good eye), Kunkle knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, which was to be a Med-A-Vac nurse for extreme situations like serious car crashes.
“The nurses all treated me really well and everything, and that’s what really put me on the medical path,” said Kunkle. “I wanted to do something in the medical field for a long time. I got into a medical program this past year, which is something I’m doing right now, that’s helping me to narrow in on specific trauma ward nursing.”
While he has the talent to play football at some level in college, Kunkle will be attending Messiah University, which does not have a football team.
“The last time he puts on the pads will be this year,” said Banas.
But the Mechanicsburg, Pa., school offered not only a scholarship, but a family tradition.
“That was my number one choice before I even applied because my brother (Josh) went there and my sister (Lauren) also went there,” said Kunkle. “I already had the feel of that campus. It’s a Christian college, which is important to me, too. I try to live in a way that glorifies God. That’s through how I act on and off the field, so that was a huge thing for me. They had a really good nursing program, too, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
Kunkle thanked his grandfather, Les Rice, for his support with wrestling and gave a special mention to teammates Hans Muse and Tyler Merwerth. He is completely at peace with turning the page to the next chapter.
He has had plenty of injuries, including several concussions, and there is not much call for middle linebackers of his size-speed package in the NFL.
“I’ve two or three concussions – that we know about – from both football and wrestling,” he said. “Also, I view academics as more important than athletics. It’s more of a sure future. Even though I love the game of football, I just don’t think it’s realistic to put my eggs into that basket.”
This comes as no surprise to his coach.
“I like to think of him as the boy next door, the kind of boy you would want to your daughter to date and bring home,” Banas said. “He treats everybody as he wants to be treated. That’s just how he lives his life.”
And a major part of how he lives his life his faith, which includes deep involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and formerly in the school’s Best Buddies program, and spending time in the outdoors instead of at parties.
“I have been a Christian since I was five,” said Kunkle. “That’s when I accepted Jesus in my heart. But, there is a difference between accepting and having your own faith, in my opinion. For me, that means having your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That doesn’t just mean reading the Bible. That means talking to him and hearing what he has to say about what is going on in your life, too. Not audibly, of course, but through stuff that happens in your life.”
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