Gridiron Girl: Aniah Echols makes history on the football field

Gridiron Girl: Aniah Echols makes history on the football field

OXFORD, Miss. (WMC) - Football is traditionally a sport for men, it’s seen as a brotherhood.

But 13-year-old Oxford Middle School student Aniah Echols isn’t here for traditions, she’s just here to play.

"Getting to put my cleats on the field is the best thing,” said Echols.

Echols is not only the first girl to ever play football for the Chargers, but also the first to start.

And she's just as good, if not, better than the boys.

"She's not a kicker. She's not a person who plays every now and then, or a snapper that plays every now and then and doesn't get hit. She's our starting right tackle,” said Mike Hardwick, Oxford Middle School head football coach.

"When I’m on the line, my fire just, whew… it's lit. I do get a really good feeling when I get them on the ground,” said Echols.

"If you had to pin me down, she might be our best offensive lineman,” said Hardwick.

Echols’ journey to the gridiron started when she was 7 years old, playing backyard football with her cousins -- who were all boys.

That interest drove her to try out for organized football last Spring, and although there was a bit of learning curve, it's been smooth sailing since then.

Chargers head football coach Mike Hardwick says figuring out the logistics of Echols’ locker room situation was trickier than getting her acclimated to the sport.

"We have a coaching office that's right next door, and it has its own lockers. So, that is her locker room. The boys get a certain number of minutes to dress, and when the boys get finished, Aniah comes in,” said Hardwick.

Echols says she's motivated to prove a point to her opponents -- that girls can do so much more than some people think -- and it also helps that she has a role model on the field with her.

Megan Wolfe is the school's first female assistant coach.

Wolfe, who's from Indiana, grew up watching Peyton Manning and her beloved Indianapolis Colts.

She says she’s always wanted to play but was never allowed that opportunity.

“We had an interest meeting for high school football, and I tried to go to the interest meeting, and the head coach actually stopped me and said, 'No, girls don’t' play football. Go back. You don't need to be here,'" said Wolfe. “The fact that she's capitalized on her opportunity. The opportunity I couldn't have. I get very overwhelmed with joy that she's doing what she's doing.”

But Wolfe never gave up on that dream. She recently became a member of the Lady Panthers, a women's football league team in Jackson, Mississippi.

"Really excited for that opportunity. To not only hold my own as an assistant coach, but also flip the script and do it on the field as well,” said Wolfe.

"She never told me. Coach Wolfe was playing for the Lady Panthers. My mouth dropped. I'm really excited for her,” said Echols.

While Echols is having the time of her life playing the sport, she does want to take a break from football in high school.

But for now, she's happy knocking down boys as her Chargers look to stay undefeated.

"I think that people shouldn’t look at girls as their figure or gender. That they can and can’t play,” said Echols.

“We’re like a big family. Forty brothers, she’s our one sister. We’re gonna protect her, and the same way she’s got 40 brothers that she’s going to look out for,” said Hardwick.

Echols says her other dream growing up was being a part of ROTC.

She says that’s what she wants to focus on when she gets to high school, and she’s not that worried about a future in football just quite yet.

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