Johnson plays in a man’s world – with pads |

Johnson plays in a man’s world – with pads

Renee ShadforthStephanie Johnson plays against the grain - as outside linebacker on the Wolverine's freshman football squad.

Being a girl in the predominantly male sport of football has presented challenges for high school freshman Stephanie Johnson.

Especially in the locker room.

Johnson can’t dress for games in the boys’ locker room. Before one game, she was putting on her gear in the women’s locker room when the players from the visiting team (who typically use the women’s room to dress out) walked in.

“They were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s the girl,” Johnson said. “They were so amazed – like they’ve never seen a girl before.”

Johnson, an outside linebacker on the Tahoe Truckee High School freshmen football team, has gotten used to being “the girl.” She is the school’s first female player to stick out an entire season since the ’70s.

It’s more than Johnson’s gender that keeps her from looking like a typical football player; she’s about 5 feet 6 inches tall, with long strawberry-blond hair, and a small frame.

And she still gets playing time.

“She doesn’t get a lot of minutes,” said freshmen football coach Steve Ames. “But a lot of the boys could learn a lot from Steph, from her work ethic and attitude.”

Although she misses out on some of the bonding that goes on in the locker room, Johnson said her relationship with her teammates has been, for the most part, positive.

“It depends on the day,” she said. “Sometimes they’re really supportive. Other days, they’re like, ‘Get off our field.'”

Despite the challenges, the reasons Johnson chose to play football are simple: She loves the game and she loves to work hard.

“I just like the idea of being in a man’s sport – just doing what they do,” she said.

Since fourth grade, Johnson has wanted to get on the football field, but her parents discouraged her from playing.

“It has taken me that long to talk them into it,” she said.

Her mother, Andi, finally gave in and let her play.

Johnson’s dad, Mike, got her into football at a young age. Her favorite player is the late George Sauer, Jr., who helped the Jets grab the AFC’s first Super Bowl win.

With the season winding down, Johnson is already thinking about next year. Her goal is to play all four years of high school and get some playing time each season.

“I’m going to work so hard in the off season,” she said.

The biggest issue holding Johnson back from more game time is her size – some players outweigh her by as much as 130 pounds. But, coach Ames said, she has the biggest heart on the team.

“There are some people at the high school that don’t think a girl belongs on the football field,” he said, “but Steph can play for me any day.”

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