Meet the girl taking high school football by storm

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IB Sophomore Lelah Echols, looking for a new challenge in sports started her journey as the kicker for the Spring Valley Varsity Football team in the 2019-2020 school year. 

Many people view football as a male sport, which it predominantly is, leaving flag football for women. However, there are two girls on the football team, with the newest edition being Echols. Echols wears #84, the kicker of the team having the duty of kicking field goals and extra points. She is no newcomer to sports, however, having played girls soccer and flag football in her freshman year. 

“ …I heard that she was a soccer player and that she had played soccer before, we were looking for a soccer-style kicker…” Head Varsity Football Coach Marcus Teal said. 

Echols has received a lot of support from her fellow peers, teachers and family helping her feel more comfortable playing. 

“Most of my friends were like hype men for me and came to my games just to watch me, even though I didn’t play very much. My parents were actually ecstatic, my dad was probably more excited than I was. My family pretty much told all their friends on Facebook and I got a lot of support from people I didn’t even know,” Echols said. 

Practicing weekly Monday through Wednesday from 3:30 pm to 6:15 pm and Thursday 1:45 pm to 2:30 pm, and having previously played flag football, Echols has adjusted to a new schedule and way of conditioning.

Homecoming, one of the biggest games of the football season, with an enormous turn out each year, was Lelah’s debut on the field as the Grizzlies went against the Clark Chargers. 

“I was super nervous for the homecoming game, but then going into my second game we played the following week, I [was] able to be more chill. Of course, I was still uptight and nervous about every single thing that I do but it was a lot easier the second game to be able to relax…I had bonded more with the guys after the homecoming game,” Echols said. 

Joining as the new player is never easy, especially with a team consisting of men. However, the guys on the team have shown Echols outstanding support. 

“She was really good, but she really doubted herself and she’s a good asset to the team,” Senior Cornerback Nathan Moreno said. 

Echols was asked by Coach Nathan Pangelinan to try-out and join the team after hearing she wouldn’t be participating in soccer this year.

“I’m super excited she came out, that she decided to do it. I know that this has not been an easy task for her but she’s been working really hard in the month she’s been with us,” Teal said. 

Echols’s performance doesn’t go unnoticed by her fellow players as well.

“For her first year on varsity, I’d say that she did an amazing job adjusting to the different kicking style of football and if she keeps grinding she will be our kicker for the future program. I feel like once she got in the groove of things and adjusting to football and the guys on the team, her performance started rocketing,” Senior Linebacker Robert Burns said.

Echols is not alone on her journey in the football team as Senior Kamara Clarke is also on the varsity football team and has been a huge support for Echols, encouraging her to interact more with the male players and showing her some of the ropes of football. 

“Having Kamara on the team has really helped because I’m really confused a lot, cause she’s been on the team for three years now. She’s really helped me find my way,” Echols said.

“After a few weeks I felt more in place with some of the guys and during the last game it was hard to see some of the guys leave since they’re mostly seniors, they are some people I never thought I would connect with,” Echols said.

Being on the football team is not something that may cross the mind of a female student due to the fact that high school football is primarily male. However, many girls have got positions as place-kicker, making the small talk of women playing football in towns and high schools open.

“I’m all for females coming out for football and getting an opportunity if it’s something they can feel they can do,” Teal said. 

Though it is 2019, there are still people who can’t accept the fact that girls can be playing football, leaving Echols to stand up for herself on occasion. 

“Once people understood that I was gonna be on the male football team, they would say things like ‘Oh, that’s really cool.” But then there are some people who see me in my jersey and ask ‘Oh is that your boyfriend’s jersey?’ and I will say it’s my own and they’re kinda taken aback,” Echols said.

She also hopes to continue her journey in football in her junior year as well and possibly having a wider variety of positions.

 “I do want to try and play defense next year, and being like a running back or something would be pretty cool too,” Echols said.

Echols doesn’t take any negative comments to heart but wonders why some people can’t take in the fact that women can play football too. She says she has learned some important lessons from being on the team, also being a talking point amongst her fellow peers. She has received criticism and comments that she hopes others can learn from. 

“Gender roles don’t need to be so specific. Some people think that football is not a sport for girls. I don’t think that has to define you if you want to play football then you can play football. There is nothing wrong with that,” Echols said.