kicker

In this Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 photo, Eastern York kicker Liz Heistand, right, kicks prior to a game against Hanover at Sheppard-Myers Field in Hanover, Pa. High school football teams in Pennsylvania frequently use boys' soccer players as kickers, and it's not unheard of for girls to join teams in other roles. However, it is rarer for teams to find kickers from the girls' soccer team. (Paul Chaplin/York Daily Record via AP)

YORK, Pa. (AP) — Eastern York football coach Josh Campbell wants the most dedicated athletes to play for his team.

So when he saw one particular student spend most of last offseason woking out in the weight room alongside his players, he knew this was someone he wanted to add to the roster.

It didn't matter that the student already played soccer. It didn't matter that she was a girl.

He also needed a kicker.

That's how Liz Heistand became a football player.

"I had seen her play soccer and she has a pretty good foot," Campbell said. "When we're looking for kids to join the football team, we're looking for kids who are committed and she was (in the weight room) all the time. When I first asked her she was a little hesitant or wasn't sure if I was serious, but she decided she was going to try it."

High school football teams in Pennsylvania frequently use boys' soccer players as kickers, and it's not unheard of for girls to join teams in other roles. However, it is rarer for teams to find kickers from the girls' soccer team. Northern Lebanon had a female kicker, Jenna Wentling, graduate two years ago.

A center back on the soccer team, Heistand said she was a little nervous when first asked to join the team, but she became enthusiastic once she realized she was pretty good at it.

Despite Campbell's initial suggestion to kick with her toe, Heistand has remained a soccer-style kicker on the football field. She made two extra points in Eastern York's opener, a 35-28 loss to Columbia, and has a range of about 30 to 32 yards.

"It's a little bit different than soccer, but it's similar to striking a soccer ball when you're trying to score because you hit with your laces then, too. It was pretty natural for me" Heistand said. "I thought it would go smoothly because I'm in the weight room a lot, and I'm friends with a lot of guys on the team.

"I wouldn't be playing if it wasn't for them."

Gaining a group of brothers

It's not easy playing two sports in one season.

Soccer remains a major priority for Heistand. She said new Eastern York coach Christina Crumling has been supportive and allows her to leave practice when needed. She often starts her afternoon at soccer practice, goes to football to work on kicking, and then returns to soccer if needed. The soccer team doesn't have games on Fridays, so there are no conflicts there.

And Eastern York's football coaches are fine with Heistand just attending the kicking portions of practices.

But that wasn't fine with her.

If she was going to play football, she wanted to actually be part of the team.

"We had two-a-days (practices in the summer) and Campbell said I didn't have to go to it, but I wanted the team to trust me," Heistand said. "I didn't want them to think, 'Oh no, she hasn't put in any work.' Now, they've seen me there so much they know I'm part of the team."

Added Campbell: "We told her she could just come for the kicking portions, and she was like, 'I need my teammates to buy-in.' She doesn't just show up every so often, she's there all the time. One thing we have to do is manage her workload because she wants to do so much."

That means Heistand frequently runs conditioning drills with the rest of the team. She's even participated in tackling drills at times. Plus, going to early practices helped her adjust to kicking with pads on.

In the process, she's become a true teammate and member of the Golden Knights, rather than just someone who shows up to kick. At the team's practice Thursday, she was laughing on the sidelines with the rest of the players before practicing field goals.

"I don't have any brothers but since I joined this team it's like I gained 20-some brothers," Heistaind said. "They've been so inviting since I stepped on the field. I know they'll protect me and they treat me like one of the guys."

Heistand's new brothers helped her through the first disappointment of her football career last Friday.

Maybe the biggest difference between kicking in football and kicking in soccer is that a kicker always has the pressure of having everyone's eyes on them. Heistand felt that pressure for the first time when she lined up for her first extra point against Columbia.

The kick was no good.

"When I missed I was really upset," she said. "The team was like, 'Liz, we know what you can do.' They always calm me down and after that first one I wasn't nervous."

Heistand would recover and make her next two attempts. She said her teammates mobbed her on the sidelines afterward.

It was an especially proud moment for Campbell.

"That first miss, I wouldn't say it was deflating because it happens," he said. "QBs throw incompletions. Guys in the secondary miss tackles. It was good to see her go out there and experience success because I know how much work she's put in. That was validating."

A program of inclusion

A 2003 Eastern York grad, Campbell has coached two girls since he took over the Knights program last year, with a female player on the JV squad in 2018. The program also has several female managers.

Those things aren't a coincidence.

As he looks to rebuild a program that has struggled in recent years, Campbell wants everyone in the school to feel they can be a part of his team.

"As our program grows, inclusion is not by accident," Campbell said. "We intentionally do this. We had a seven-on-seven tournament in the summer and we had female officials on the field. We want anyone, it doesn't matter your gender, race or creed. We want you to be a part of Eastern York football. We do a lot of great things and we have great things on the horizon so we want you to be involved."

Of course, there are some different logistics to have a girl on the roster. Heistand doesn't use the same locker room, and will have a separate place to get changed at the team's first road contest against Hanover this Friday.

Still, having her on the roster has gone smoothly. Heistand said she's excited to see U.S.A women's soccer legend Carli Lloyd entertaining the idea of kicking in the NFL, and hopes more girls will want to get involved in the sport. She plans to remain with the team next season.

"She's a great representation of our school district, and a model student for others to follow in her footsteps," Campbell said. "It speaks volumes to her and to the other gentlemen on the team as well. They're always interacting with her, and we're about being a football family."

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