(Franklin, GA) — The high school football season came to an end for the Heard County Braves last Friday night with a 27-7 loss at Pepperell in the first round of the state playoffs.
One of the team members that took the loss very hard was a brand new player that only began playing the sport of football for the first time this season — sophomore Ellen Witz.
Sophomore Brave football player Ellen Witz (Photo: HCHS)
Ellen is the first female football player in Heard County history and plans to continue playing for the Braves until she graduates in 2022.
She lives in Greenville but commutes to Heard County every day as an open-enrollment student.
Ellen first came to HCHS as a freshman and she says that is when she first had the notion to attempt to play her first organized sport.
“I was never really that into sports, but I wanted to do something that was different — something that might encourage and inspire people and show my individuality,” Ellen said in an interview last week.
Like many others around the school and in the community, she first became enamored with Brave football while attending games during the 2018 State Championship run — the first state football title in school history.
Ellen says her parents were obviously very surprised when she first told them about her plan to try out for the team but says they both have been extremely supportive. Once she decided to give football a try she knew just who to talk to.
“I feel like there are just so many lessons and life lessons that I see going on with the football and the team just seems like such a family — especially at Heard County. I just wanted to be a part of that so bad — so I went and talked to Coach Tim Barron.”
She says Coach Barron was extremely supportive from the beginning.
“I love Coach Barron he is my favorite coach of all time and has been such a big supporter of me playing,” Ellen says.
Many of the coaches and staff admittedly did not think the 5-foot, 3-inch tall 140-pound outside linebacker would make it in a sport that can be especially physical and a grueling undertaking even for male athletes, but she has proved them all wrong by earning playing time on the JV squad as well as some minutes in a few varsity games.
In the homecoming win over Jordan, Ellen became the first female player in HCHS history to record a tackle.
“The thing that is so unique about Ellen is that it’s not a show — she comes to work in practice, she wants to learn, and she wants to get better — she’s not doing this for attention and she’s earned the respect of our players,” says Coach Barron. “It’s just neat to see her wanting to learn and wanting to play hard — she’s such a mentally tough girl.”
Ellen’s Heard County football journey began with summer workouts. She has her own dressing area but other than that she’s not really treated any differently than anyone else.
The sophomore says she feels like she belongs on the squad because of her teammates and not in spite of them.
“When I first started the guys were hesitant of interacting with me because I think they were waiting to see if I was going to stick but once the games got started they really accepted me and now I feel like I am just part of the family,” Ellen says.
She says certain players have been especially supportive and become good friends along the way.
“Senior lineman Qua Thornton — always Qua — he has been there for me every step of the way and so has Colson Jiles, Ashton Bonner and especially some of the freshmen. Kesean Johnson has always been nice to me too.”
The hardest part of playing the new sport for Ellen has not been because she is female but because she is so new to the sport.
“The most difficult part for me has been accepting that I am different than these guys that have been playing for years and years — it’s hard just trying to get caught up skill-wise and not making too many mistakes.”
Ellen Witz (#81) going in for the first tackle recorded by a female in HCHS history vs. Jordan on October 18 (Photo: Jeff Napier)
Ellen is a good academic student who hopes to attend the University of Georgia in order to become a personal trainer and a high school strength coach.
“I just want to be a Georgia Bulldog so bad. After college I plan to enlist in the Marines to follow in the footsteps of my dad and his dad — they were both Marines.”
Before her football journey, Ellen had never lifted many weights, but she has already earned a reputation as one of the hardest workers in the weight room.
She says that watching and learning from the older lifters like senior Micaiah Austin and junior Beth Taylor has been motivating for her. She can already bench press nearly her own body weight and she squats 185 pounds.
“My goal is by my senior year that I can lift a lot of weight — I want to have people standing around my rack and looking at me lifting all that weight,” she says.
Ellen doesn’t have any regrets about her decision to try something so far outside of the box.
“I just love being a part of the Braves football team,” she says with a big smile.
According to data gathered on all fifty states (and D.C.) by the National Federation of State High Schools Association, more girls are playing on boys football teams than ever before.
For the 2018-2019 school year 2,404 girls played 11-man tackle football on boys teams at the high school level. That’s more than has ever been recorded in the NFHSA’s history.
No high schools in America offer a girls tackle football team. If a girl wants to play football, she has to go out for the boys’ team. There’s no guarantee that she’ll make the team, but Title IX guarantees that every sport offered only to boys at the high school level has to allow girls a fair shot at tryouts.