Valley Center quarterback persists through injury on road to redemption

KSN Digital Extra

VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) – For some athletes, a Lisfranc injury can be career-ending. For Valley Center quarterback Kaleb Harden, it was a bump in the road.

“I wanted to play for those seniors,” said Harden. “I just wanted to give them a good season, and that’s what got me through it.”

Harden played his entire junior high school football season in pain.

“There were times where we would go out and warm up before games, and I would go back into the locker room and be crying because my foot hurt so bad,” said Harden.

“It was hard to watch from the sidelines,” admitted Stephanie Harden, Kaleb’s mother. “He really couldn’t run.”

Despite multiple visits to the doctor, his diagnosis remained a mystery throughout the season.

“We took him in, and had him X-rayed,” said Matt Harden, Kaleb’s father. “They kept saying that it could have been a sprain of the foot.”

Harden would spend his weekends resting, and elevating his foot, but it never really got better. He wouldn’t learn his diagnosis until after the season.

Photo courtesy of the Harden family.

“It’s only an injury you can see standing up, X-rayed down,” said Harden. “We didn’t know until after the season. No doctors found that.”

The diagnosis was more serious than expected. Harden learned he had played his entire junior season with a Lisfranc injury, a result of one or more of the metatarsal bones being displaced from the tarsus.

“This could be a career-ender for NFL guys and college guys,” said Valley Center head coach, Scott L’Ecuyer. “It definitely should have been a season-ender, but he limped through it. I just think it speaks to his toughness. We have a pretty tough team, and I think he embodies that.”

The road to recovery wasn’t an easy one.

“I was going to have to have surgery because it was so separated,” recalled Harden. “It’s too small of a ligament to sew up and let heal, so I had to get 5 screws in my foot to hold it together.

Harden was non-weight bearing for two months, and in a boot for another month before he was able to walk.

“It’s traumatizing as a parent when you realize your son was in that much pain and you’re saying: Rub a little dirt on it and it’ll be alright, suck it up,” said Stephanie Harden.

As soon as he was able, Harden was eyeing his return to the gridiron.

Photo courtesy of the Harden family.

“It was just the surgery, and get back for next year,” said Matt Harden. “That’s all it was. It was never an option to be a career-ending deal.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hornets didn’t know if they would be able to have a football season.

“I wanted our guys to play, but the guy I wanted us to play for was Kaleb,” said L’Ecuyer. “I knew he worked so hard and I wanted him to have this season.”

He would be ready when opportunity struck.

“It took me awhile to get up, get faster. I was really slow coming into the season,” said Harden. “It was just a lot of band exercises, just working up to build that strength.”

His hard work would pay off. Harden would finish the 2020 season as one of the passing leaders in the area, throwing for 1,225 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.

“He’s having a resurgence this year. It’s a redemption season for him,” said L’Ecuyer. “It’s rewarding. You want to see kids succeed. You want to see kids that work as hard as him succeed, so for us, for his family, and himself it’s been rewarding, and for this team, he’s already put us in a position where we’ve doubled our win total from a year ago.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but Harden wouldn’t change his decision to play through the pain.

“If I would have had to go through that again I would just say – push through. You’re going to get tougher mentally. See why God put you through this.”

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