It was only Week 6, and Olympia High School’s football program had nearly guaranteed itself a playoff berth already, so it didn’t make sense for Scott Gunther to re-enter the game.
He missed the fourth quarter when the Bears played Sumner, after a defender crashed into him.
“I was running sideways, and hip pads don’t cover your hips completely,” Gunther said. “He hit the top of my hip with his helmet, so there was a little contusion and all of the tissue around it hurt really bad.
“I couldn’t sprint without it being a sharp pain, so they pulled me out and I sat.”
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It had happened before — the hip injury was his fourth injury in three seasons — so Gunther, the area’s leading rusher in the past two seasons, waited again, resolving to not let it slow him.
He sat the rest of that game, resigned to watch, as Olympia lost, 21-16, to the Spartans, then the third-ranked Class 4A team in the state.
“I was just mad I couldn’t play because it was such a close game — and I love being in close games,” Gunther said.
He worked all week in practice. And he wanted to play against Graham-Kapowsin the following Friday.
“I felt bad because I wanted to be there for my team,” Gunther said. “But they all understood that I needed to get healthy.”
Olympia’s coaching staff decided to give Gunther another week to regroup. So, again, he could only watch as the Eagles cruised at Ingersoll Stadium, 63-28, to hand the Bears their only other loss this season.
“He’s in great shape now,” Olympia coach Bill Beattie said. “This was the slightest of all injuries he’s had since he’s been here. It wasn’t that he didn’t practice the week before, he just couldn’t quite cut it. We chose to keep him out to come back for this.”
This playoffs, the coach means.
For the third straight season, the Bears (7-2) will play in the 4A district playoffs, looking for their first state-playoff berth since 2011. At 7 p.m. Friday, they will host Skyview (6-3), which has lost to three of the state’s most elite teams: Camas, O’Dea and Eastside Catholic.
So, needless to say, Olympia needs Gunther, who has been the area’s leading rusher since the season began.
“He’s a huge part of our offense this year,” Beattie said.
Even in a condensed season, Gunther has put together 213 carries for 1,639 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns.
When he has been healthy this season, Olympia has won by an average margin of 23.5 points.
“His feet — he kind of glides as he runs,” Beattie said. “He’s not a big chomper, not a big strider, but he just kind of glides. He’s faster than what I think people think he is. Once he goes, no one catches him.”
It’s mesmerizing to watch on film — once Gunther sees the hole, he’s gone, Beattie said. Gunther says the direction he chooses, the cuts he makes, the way he breaks tackles, it’s all instinctual at this point.
“It’s not coaching, I’ll tell you that,” Beattie chuckled. “He does a great job of vision, and seeing where the ball goes. He has a good understanding of that.”
Gunther — who is a 3.97 GPA student, and has visited Harvard and Yale, among other colleges — has consistently been Olympia’s top back when he’s healthy.
Last season as a junior, again in limited time, he was a first-team running back on The Olympian’s all-area team.
Even after a two-game absence with a shoulder injury — again, Olympia’s only two regular-season losses, against Gig Harbor and Bellarmine Prep — he led the area in rushing with 182 carries for 1,538 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The season before that, he broke a finger on his right hand in the preseason. He played in a cast against South Kitsap in the third week, and rushed for a 35-yard touchdown before breaking his collarbone in the end zone.
Still, Olympia has not lost a regular-season game in the past three years when Gunther has played offense.
“It’s frustrating how I’ll be going, going good, and have a little setback,” Gunther said. “My first game back is always a little slow, and then I really get into it again.”
It feels slow to him, anyway, he said.
However, his first game back against Puyallup two weeks ago was anything but that — he rushed for a season-best 297 yards on 34 carries, and scored three touchdowns.
“I don’t know if it’s a personal quest on his own, but he runs angrily,” said Kevin Gunther, Scott’s father and an assistant coach for the Bears.
“He has that attitude about him that, ‘No one’s going to stop me, and I’m going to beat you one-on-one.’ ”
Scott Gunther has rushed for more than 200 yards five times this season. He’s only been below triple digits once — in Olympia’s 47-14 win over Stanwood last week, though he rushed for four touchdowns.
With lingering injuries resolved, and a future which, he hopes, includes college football — he’s spoken to Linfield and Eastern Washington — Gunther is geared up for a final trip to the playoffs.
“I feel like it’s going to be a good atmosphere and pretty fun,” he said.