It’s nothing new for a high school football team to grab a player from the school’s soccer program to be its kicker.
Usually, however, it's not from the girls’ soccer team.
The story of how Liz Heistand, a junior at Eastern York High School, became the team’s kicker begins in a pretty fitting setting for a football story — the weight room.
At the request of the school’s trainer, Jason Schoonover, Heistand started to lift weights while the football team was working out in the spring to improve her strength for the upcoming soccer season.
It was in that weight room that Eastern York football coach Josh Campbell asked Heistand to be the team’s kicker after seeing how hard she worked in the gym during the offseason and hearing of her soccer abilities.
A big choice: Heistand wasn’t sure if she wanted to accept the offer initially, but said she gets along with the guys on the team because of their shared passion for sports and weight lifting.
“At first I was a little hesitant, because I was like, ‘I don’t know if the guys will like me,’” Heistand said. “But the team has been so inviting and welcoming. They just treat me like one of the guys, basically.”
Campbell said it wasn’t a big shock to the Golden Knights' players when he told them Heistand would join the team. That’s primarily because of the culture Campbell has worked to establish in the program since taking over last season.
“We’re not a football team, we’re a football community,” Campbell said. “Not just males, not just females, everyone is included in that.”
Earning their respect: One of the reasons Campbell said Heistand was able to blend in with the team so seamlessly and be accepted is because she works as hard as anyone. Unless she has a soccer match, Heistand joins the team for practice after her own soccer practice ends.
She also participated in two-a-day workouts in the summer in full pads, just like every other player.
“To Liz’s credit, she works really hard,” Campbell said. “It may be easy to discredit someone who doesn’t put work in, but she puts work in all the time.”
At first, Heistand’s family, friends and teammates couldn’t believe she was going to join the football team, but have since come around and now support her.
The first game: All of her hard work was finally put on display last week during the Golden Knights’ Week Zero game against Columbia.
In the first quarter, Heistand got the chance to attempt her first extra point. It didn’t go as planned.
“The first kick, I was really nervous, which is probably why I missed it,” Heistand said through a laugh.
Campbell said the snap and hold could’ve been better, but like the other players on the roster, sometimes mistakes are made and he had faith in her that she could do the job.
“It wasn’t an experiment, we knew what she could do,” Campbell said. “Like everyone else on the football field, there’s 22 guys on the football field, typically, and they all make mistakes.”
Although her coach had confidence in her, Heistand wasn’t sure she would get another chance to kick after missing her first attempt. She added that the thought crept into her mind that people would think she didn’t belong on the team after missing the extra point.
The Golden Knights’ players told her they had faith in her and calmed her down after her missed extra point.
In the crowd, Heistand said her parents heard some people making comments after the public address announcer said her name and people realized there was a female kicking for the team.
She didn’t let any of the nerves, pressure or jokes bother her when she ran out on the field for her second extra point attempt. This time, it went like so many other kicks in practice — through the uprights.
“I was really excited,” Heistand said. “I started jumping up and down and the team went crazy, too.”
Heistand connected on another attempt later in the 35-28 loss and finished the game 2 for 3 on extra-point attempts.
Like everyone else: Campbell said it was gratifying for him as a coach to see the results of Heistand’s hard work. Although she didn’t attempt a field goal, Campbell said she has connected on 32-yard field goals in practice and she is the team’s placekicker.
Heistand isn’t the primary player asked to kick the ball off, but can do so if needed. Campbell said that like every player, she has gone through tackling drills to be prepared for what to do if she gets in that situation.
As for being the lone female player on the team, Campbell said the other players have been really good with dealing with having Heistand in a locker room full of young men. The normal plan is to have a player bring Heistand’s pads, which are stored in the locker room with everyone else’s, out to the practice field where she puts them on.
Despite the two-a-day practices, tackling drills and comments from people in the crowd, Heistand is happy with her decision to join the team and credits her teammates with being the reason she is on the team.
“I know some girls would be a little scared, but I know I am protected on the field,” Heistand said. “If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be playing.”
Reach Rob Rose at email@example.com.