Girls night out

Hogan, Smith tackle high school football as players

By Bruce Hope bruce@opcfla.com
Posted 9/23/20

ORANGE PARK – Football is life in Florida.

Even for girls.

Countless dreams of playing in the NFL begin to take shape under the Friday Night lights of high school football fields across the …

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Girls night out

Hogan, Smith tackle high school football as players

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Football is life in Florida.

Even for girls.

Countless dreams of playing in the NFL begin to take shape under the Friday Night lights of high school football fields across the state. In Clay County, the football careers of two high school players will never end in the NFL, no matter how hard they work or how well they play.

That’s because Kenyatta Hogan (senior) at Ridgeview High School and Andrea Smith (junior) of Orange Park are both girls.

In a game full of testosterone and machismo, the girls may be at a marked disadvantage. Or maybe not.

Hogan began playing organized football in the seventh grade.

“When I came to junior high, seeing them play, one of my uncles was the coach for the JV at the time, for junior high, and I told him I wanted to start playing,” said Hogan. “He was like, ‘ok, well then come out to practice and we’ll see what we can do.’” Hogan made the team and has been playing football since. For the first few years, she played on the offensive line, at guard and tackle, but this season, she plays nose guard on the defensive line.

Smith didn’t get quite the start that Hogan did, starting to play football in ninth grade. She cheered for seven years before getting on the gridiron.

“I’d always wanted to play football because I saw my brothers play it,” she said. “I’m the oldest, but I always went to all their Pop Warner games, did the chain crew. One day I was just like, you know what? You only live once. I wanted to play in middle school, but I was a little iffy.” Smith, like Hogan, also plays nose guard on the defensive line.

Smith loves the fact that nose guard is a leadership position on the defensive line. It’s also physical. Often, it’s the initial point of contact after the ball is snapped.

Both girls have similar stories about their experiences playing football. They both expressed their teams are like families. The other players are their brothers, and they are the lone sisters. At first, they received some of the obligatory, “What’s she doing here,” when they showed up to try out for their teams. Once they got out and began to prove themselves, that became less of an issue.

“When I came out here [Ridgeview], the guys were really nice,” Hogan said. “I still had a couple of guys from my junior high that were here, so they supported me. I had a lot of what I call my ‘day-ones’ that first day I came out here that were like, ‘Oh you’re a girl playing football, that’s so cool.’”

Smith says she mostly got good feedback when she started playing. Both echo the sentiment that they get treated the same as every other player on the team, by both their teammates and respective coaching staffs.

“She’s a member of our team,” said Michael Harrison, Athletics Director at Orange Park. “She’s actively engaged in practices and games, and she contributes. From an outsider watching practices and games, I don’t see her being treated differently. She’s accepted by her teammates and coaches.”

Matt Knauss has been the head coach at Ridgeview for a little more than a year. “We treat Kenyatta just like we would treat everyone else. She gets held to the same standard as everyone else, and I think it really wouldn’t do her justice to hold her to any other standard. She gets in there in the weight room, and she works, and she gets out there bangs around in the trenches, and she tries as hard as anybody out there. It’s really inspiring to see her come out here and work her tail off to get some time on the field.”

Both girls are second string and get to see playing time on the field when they’re healthy.

Their advice for other girls who may want to play football, but aren’t sure?

“If you’re thinking about it, just do it,” Hogan said. “It’s really fun. You might end up on a team where you get pushed back from the guys, but that’s where you really just gotta buck up and show ‘em that, ‘Ok you don’t want me out here, but I’m still here regardless of what you think I can or can’t do.’”

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