Forty-eight hours before he reported for training camp on Wednesday,
Skuta paid his respects to a fallen friend.
The San Francisco 49ers linebacker joined former U.S. Army Captain Mike Viti on his cross-country trek honoring service members killed during the Global War on Terror.
On Monday, Skuta flew out to Yuma, Ariz., to walk 12 miles with Viti, a platoon leader in Afghanistan from 2010 to ’11 who was recognized with a Bronze Star for his efforts.
They walked in 120-degree weather, too.
“It was something I wanted to do and I went out there and did it,” said Skuta, who has close ties to Alex Larson, Viti's walking partner and route manager. Officially, Larson is the director of special projects for “Mike’s Hiking for Heroes,” the campaign created in conjunction with the non-profit organization “Freedom Has a Face.”
Skuta attended Michigan’s Grand Valley State with Larson. In fact, Skuta’s dorm room was two doors down from Larson and both men shared mutual friends in college.
The linebacker, who played his first season with the 49ers in 2013, had even more incentive to help Viti and Larson. Skuta’s close friend, Sgt. Joseph Johnson, passed away from combat in Afghanistan on June 16, 2010.
“It was a tough thing for me,” the sixth-year pro said of his friend’s passing.
Skuta wanted to do his part in helping Viti’s mission. After the former Army captain spoke to members of the 49ers on June 5, Skuta made plans to join the project that honored the families of fallen soldiers.
“I really liked the idea of supporting the Gold Star Families,” Skuta said. “When you see an opportunity to do something, just go do it.”
Viti was welcomed to the 49ers facility by Jim Harbaugh and secondary coach Ed Donatell, whose daughter married Viti’s West Point classmate.
From there, Viti continued on his trek which included hiking more than 7,100 kilometers around the country. The journey will conclude Dec. 13 at the 2014 Army vs. Navy game in Baltimore, MD.
But before Viti crosses the finish line, he was joined by Skuta.
“I probably could have planned a better place to walk with them, but I wanted to get it in before I got out here to camp,” Skuta said. “It happened to take place just outside of Yuma.”
Skuta met up with Viti and Larson and drove out to the exact spot they finished on Sunday.
Viti doesn’t take breaks very often these days. He averages 22 miles per day and told Skuta that he ran 10 miles on his most recent off-day.
“The guy is unreal,” Skuta said. “I did 12 miles, and I was tired.”
Skuta said he offered to send gear to Viti, but the former captain declined new socks and shoes.
“He really doesn’t want anything,” Skuta said. “He just wants to bring attention to those 'Gold Star' families. It’s a really cool deal.”
So while Skuta will be putting his body on the line at another training camp, in the back of his mind he can appreciate the selfless efforts of Viti, who marches on to help the families in pain.
Just like the Johnson’s, who Skuta still makes a priority to see when he visits his hometown of Flint, Mich.
Skuta cherishes the memory of his friend.
“Donatell put it the best, the Gold Star Families haven’t received enough attention,” Skuta said. “And you really can’t give it enough. The families, they get taken care of when something like that happens, but people forget about them and I think it’s something important to keep the person’s legacy alive. That’s all the families really want.”
Skuta added Johnson's name to the American flag Viti carries on his inspired walk.