Football is sport of choice for North Ogden Junior High girl

Oct 17 2012 - 4:55am

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Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Jena Johnson attends football practice at North Ogden Junior High in North Ogden on Monday, October 15 , 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)

NORTH OGDEN -- Jena Johnson isn't afraid to be one of the guys.

While most female athletes her age play soccer, basketball, volleyball or run track, Johnson prefers a collision sport with a little more contact.

Which is why, in her ninth-grade year at North Ogden Junior High School, she decided to trade in her pigtails for a pigskin, returning kicks for the school football team.

"I kind of told my parents I was going to do it whether they like it or not," Johnson said. "So far, it's been great. They (my teammates) look out for me and have helped me through everything, if I have any questions. I just love running my guts out on the field."

At first, Johnson wasn't sure her parents would let her try out for the team. After all, her only previous football experience was from watching games on TV.

But she learned quickly, getting instruction from coach Rhett Fronk once she joined the team.

"I started thinking about it last year," Johnson said. "Ever since I was 7, I wanted to play, but I was worried about what my mom and dad would say. I even thought about doing it without them knowing, but I knew that was a bad idea."

"She came to me before the season started, asking if she could try out," Fronk said. "We discussed it with her parents and got her practicing. Just like any first-time football player, there is a steep learning curve, no matter what gender you are. By the fourth week, when she got all caught up, it was only fair to give her the full football experience."

After nailing down the basics and getting pointers from her teammates, Johnson hit the field for full practices and has been returning kickoffs for the 0-6 Knights all season.

"It's fun to do kick returns," Johnson said. "I only do them when the other team scores a touchdown, but they score touchdowns a lot."

Jena's father, Weston, wasn't surprised at all when she approached him about playing football. With her previous experience playing soccer, Weston assumed she wanted to be the team's kicker.

"She still plays soccer, but I think she likes football more," Weston said. "Jena has always liked the outdoors and sports. She actually gets bored when watching sports on TV, but she loves playing them."

So how have Jena's male teammates reacted to having a girl on the team?

Jena said they've been nothing but supportive and treat her like any other player.

"I'm not a boy or a girl to them. I'm just a football player. Most of the teams we play against don't even know I'm a girl under my helmet."

Even though her teammates don't acknowledge her gender, her friends and family aren't fooled.

"They freak out every time I go in," she said. "I can always hear my parents, too. They aren't worried about me getting hurt anymore."

In her free time, Jena is no different from any other kid. She reads, runs, enjoys time with her family and is a self-proclaimed video game junkie.

But her personality really shines when she is on the gridiron.

"In our second game against Orion (Junior High), a kid on the other team was being really rude and saying some stuff to me. But on one of my returns I was able to stiff arm him pretty hard, so that felt good."

Just like one of the guys.

Nobody on the field can argue with that.

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