BEAR CREEK — You didn’t have to worry about Micah Gurley.
He didn’t get in trouble. He got good grades. Plug him into any position on the football or baseball field — designated hitter, closing pitcher, tight end, emergency quarterback — and he’d find a way to deliver.
That’s how Chatham Central baseball coach Brett Walden and football coach Sherman Howze will remember Gurley, 18, a 2020 graduate of the high school who died last month in a head-on car collision.
Mitchell Gurley, 58, Micah’s father, also died in the crash, which occurred on Friday, July 24, around 5:55 p.m. According to a crash report from the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety, the Gurleys were traveling south on State Route 1006 in a 2001 Jeep Wrangler near Siler City when 19-year-old Noe Pulido Jr., traveling north, drove into oncoming traffic and hit them head on with his 2008 H3 Hummer.
After the collision, the Jeep turned on its side, slide off the road and came to rest in a small ditch, the report said. State Highway Patrol Sgt. Zeb Stroup said last week both Gurleys died at the scene.
According to the crash report, Pulido later said at the hospital “he was sleepy on his way home from work and was having a hard time staying awake.” He has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle, the report said.
News of the accident left Gurley’s former teammates and coaches, like Walden and Howze, in shock.
“He just did what he was supposed to do,” Walden said. “He was a model student and a model citizen.”
“He was my All American,” Howze added. “The definition of a captain was Micah Gurley. He did all the extra things, all the good things to make somebody’s day. That was him. He was always there. How do you do not miss a kid like that?”
Gurley, who was also a member of Emmaus Baptist Church, a longtime disc golf player and four-year basketball player for Chatham Central, had a productive athletic career for the Bears. And in four years of coaching him, Walden and Howze got a view of both his on-field talent and the attributes off it that made him a beloved teammate.
“I don’t know any other way to put than just good,” Walden said. “Just a good person.”
A 6-foot-4 righty, Gurley earned six saves for Chatham Central as a sophomore closer and became a lock in Walden’s pitching rotation. He ended his career with 32 total appearances for the Bears, who made the NCHSAA 1A baseball playoffs in 2018 and 2019 under Walden and were gearing up to do so in 2020.
“I think he would have had a good year,” Walden said. “I just hate we didn’t get to play it out.”
Caleb Staley, a 2019 Chatham Central graduate who now pitches for Queens University of Charlotte, called Gurley “the most genuine young man and ballplayer I’ve ever been blessed with.”
Gurley closed out many a baseball game that Staley started, and they’d played plenty of summer ball and fall ball before they were teammates for three years. They also talked daily at lunch and throughout the agriculture class they took together.
“I praise God that I was able to be close friends with him as long as I did,” Staley said. “And I know he trusted in Jesus for his salvation, so he’s in a better place than we all are now.”
On the football field, Howze watched Gurley steadily progress from a freshman who appeared in one game to a steady contributor at tight end/wide receiver for Chatham Central. His final season was his best: as a senior, Gurley caught 17 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
Michael Moore, Chatham Central’s starting quarterback of the last three years, threw him most of those passes — just as he’d done since they were kids. He and Gurley were friends since childhood, and they played on the same youth teams through elementary and middle school.
“He always had the power to light up the room with his funny personality,” Moore, a current senior, said. “We all miss him, but it’s a whole lot easier knowing he’s in a better place.”
Tyler Oldham, another senior at Chatham Central, has known Gurley since they were 9 or 10 years old and called him “one of my closest friends.”
They played sports together year-round over the last three years and, this spring, both had online class during fourth period, the last of the day, so they’d often do the work at one or the other’s house.
“But it was more than just hanging out with him all the time,” Oldham said.
Take those online classes: after they finished their work, and before practices, Oldham and Gurley would also binge old movies: “The Breakfast Club,” “American Graffiti” and “really anything else,” Oldham said, including original episodes of “Scooby-Doo” and “Stranger Things,” a newer show they both loved.
Or they’d talk about old cars, one of Gurley’s passions. He drove a rusty 1967 Ford F100, which everyone called Old Blue. Gurley dreamed of one day owning his body shop, where he could fix up vintage Camaros and a Pontiac Trans Am just like the one in the 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit.”
When it came to football, basketball and baseball, Gurley “always tried his hardest,” Oldham said. “He would give you everything you had. He was a great teammate. I really admired that.”
He laughed, recalling Chatham Central’s 2019 football season opener against Eastern Randolph. The Wildcats featured Kaemen Marley, a four-star prospect who’s since committed to Tennessee.
In a 70-13 loss, Gurley scored one of the Bears’ two touchdowns. As he caught Moore’s pass in the end zone, Marley laid him out with a clean yet jarring hit. Gurley held onto the ball but stayed on the ground. Oldham, playing wide receiver, ran to check on his teammate who’d just been decked by a Division I athlete.
“Micah, are you OK?” he asked.
Gurley looked up and smiled, the ball still cradled in his arms: “Man, I held onto that like a snack!”
Oldham said things were “tough at first,” but he’s been feeling better about his friend recently. He thinks, now, of the happy memories — and he has a lot.
One time, he and Gurley helped out a friend who was fixing up and flipping houses. Their jobs weren’t the most appealing, but time flew by, because they’d belt out Jim Croce songs as they worked.
When you’re shoveling dirt, a good rendition of “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” or “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” makes the dirt pile up much quicker.
Just a few weeks before the accident, Oldham and Gurley decided to take Old Blue for one more spin. Gurley was now driving the aforementioned Jeep Wrangler, and his truck hadn’t gotten much use. So the friends planned a drive around Chatham County and, on their way out, stopped for gas.
After they filled up, the truck wouldn’t start.
“We sat there for a good hour talking until Micah’s dad (Mitchell) came by,” Oldham said. “He tapped it with a wrench, and it came back to life. But we were out of time, so we took it right back home.”
“It was fun even then,” he added. “Whatever I did with him, we made it fun.”
Howze had bumped into Gurley around town, too, about two weeks before the July 24 accident. Walden and baseball assistant coach Joe Little had seen him in late June. It was graduation day at Chatham Central, and they’d set up down by the field in case graduating players wanted to get any photos.
“Micah was the only one who came,” Walden said. “He and Mitch came, shook our hands and thanked me and Joe for everything over four years. I told him good luck. That was the last time we talked.”
In recent weeks, Walden’s also been searching through yearbooks and Facebooks alike, trying to find a picture of him and Gurley together. He’s been unsuccessful so far.
But after some thought, he figured out why there weren’t any midgame shots of him and Gurley, his closer for three years. In baseball, coaches often make mound visits to struggling pitchers, chatting with them to calm their nerves or develop a new plan of attack.
“Sure, there’s some pictures of me making a mound visit,” Walden said. “But there’s no pictures of me making a mound visit to him, because he got the job done so well. I never had to go out there.”
As they say, you didn’t have to worry about Micah Gurley.