Tuesday, January 23, 2018
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Putting it all on the Line

It hasn’t been uncommon for a girl to don a helmet and shoulder pads and play football for their respective Lancaster-Lebanon League school.

It’s just that the handful of girls who have played pigskin over the years in the L-L have been kickers. Not all of them, mind you. But certainly a majority of them.

Jenna Lang is not a kicker.

“I can’t kick to save my life,” the Ephrata sophomore said, chuckling.

There are currently five girls playing football in the L-L: Hempfield’s Aly Rote, Solanco’s Grace Kreider, Donegal’s Emma Hudson and Northern Lebanon’s Jenna Wentling are all kickers.

Lang is taking a different route entirely: She’s playing offensive line and defensive line for the Mountaineers — all 5-feet, 165 pounds of her. That’s right: She’s in the trenches, protecting quarterbacks and trying to open up holes on offense, and shooting the gaps and trying to make tackles on defense.

And she’s more than holding her own. Lang has gotten some varsity snaps already this season for the Mounts, and she’s gaining the respect of her teammates.

“There have been zero issues,” second-year Ephrata coach Kris Miller said. “She’s out here to play football, and the guys treat her just like they’d treat any other sophomore player. Jenna works hard, and I don’t think she wants them to back off, no matter who she’s going up against. She always gives it her best effort. She’s been absolutely great. She goes through all the drills and she puts in the time and she never complains.”

As you can imagine, she also gets plenty of looks and comments.

“If it’s another girl, they ask me if I really do play football,” Lang said. “If it’s a guy, they usually ask me if I’m a kicker. If it’s a parent, they usually ask me if my parents know that I play football, and if they’re OK with it.”

Jeff and Linda Lang are A-OK with it — even if their daughter is getting some bumps and bruises and battle scars along the way.

“I play on the line, so obviously I’m going to get hit,” Jenna Lang said. “I expect to get hit. Now whether I get hit or not depends on who is across from me. I might get hit, or I might not get touched whatsoever if I make a play — and that’s before they even realize that I’m a girl.

“But yeah, as a lineman you’re going to get hit, and you’re going to hit people. I knew that when I signed up to play football.”

Lang played for Ephrata’s Midget A team in eighth grade and again in ninth grade. After growing up watching college games and the NFL with her dad, she wanted to give football a try in middle school. And the Mounts’ coaches obliged.

Recent Ephrata grad Caroline Stauffer, a Kutztown University women’s basketball recruit, spent the last couple of seasons kicking for Ephrata, so this isn’t unfamiliar territory for the program.

But many people just aren’t used to seeing a female player, like Lang, playing in the trenches and mixing it up with the fellas. Hey, it’s called tackle football for a reason.

“I think if a girl wants to go out for football, or any other sport, they should go for it,” Lang said. “Why not? When I originally signed up, I didn’t think I’d be the only girl. So I don’t mind being a leader for the younger girls out there. I remember coming home bouncing off the walls when I signed up. My mom thought it was a phase and that it would only last a year or maybe two.”

This is now Lang’s third season in Ephrata’s program, and she’s bounced around position- wise. In eighth grade she played right tackle on offense and nose guard on defense; in ninth grade she played left guard and nose guard; this season she plays right guard and nose guard.

Lang got on the field for the final three minutes of Ephrata’s season opener against Conestoga Valley. And this past week, she started the JV game against Lebanon and she was in on a couple of tackles from her nose-guard spot.

So she’s not standing around taking up a roster spot and a uniform. She’s contributing. And loving every second of it. And, much to her delight, she’s not kicking — not that there’s anything wrong with kicking, of course.

“I think I did pretty good,” Lang said of her one varsity appearance and her JV start. “Some plays I know I need to improve, like with my speed or stance-wise. But against Lebanon I was able to make a few tackles.”

“She’s gutsy and she’s impressive,” said Ephrata senior Clay Oberholtzer, a veteran offensive lineman and linebacker for the Mounts. “She never gives up. Everybody gets hit at some point, and she’s playing in the middle right there in the trenches, so she knows she’s going to hit at some point.”

But Lang never shies away. She relishes the contact and wants to give it right back.

“At first I wasn’t sure about which position to play,” she said. “I kind of started out as a wide receiver but I’m not very fast. Eventually they moved me to the line. I was OK with that. I thought it would be a lot more fun hitting people.”

Lang said she’ll continue to hit — and be hit — as long as she can, and that she hopes to be a part of Ephrata’s varsity program through her senior season. She has two younger sisters — Kelli and Madison — but they don’t play football. Yet. So Jenna will rep the family name on Ephrata’s football jersey for now.

“Once I started playing I really enjoyed the adrenaline rush on every single play, on offense and on defense,” said Lang, who will try out for the Mounts’ softball team next spring. “Making a tackle or sacking the QB gives you that adrenaline rush that you just can’t get anywhere else.”

“For now, I’m just trying to stay incognito,” Lang continued. “Although I’m sure the word is out there now that Ephrata has a girl — and that I’m probably a kicker.”

She’s not. And Jenna Lang, trench stalwart and giver and taker of hits, couldn’t be more proud of that.