BISMARCK, N.D. - Teams in the Bismarck Youth Football League have been battling it out on the gridiron all season, but one team is banking on their secret weapon for this weekend’s playoffs.
The Broncos have the highest scoring record, along with the highest record of two point conversions, and the dynamo quarterback leading their success happens to be a girl.
“Anika is a rockstar” said Broncos head coach Kurt Ohnell.
“She hits, she tackles, she blocks,” added offensive coach Jame Todd.
Her teammate Ty Luetzen points out, “She has a better throwing record than me.”
Eleven-year-old Anika is no doubt, one remarkable girl.
“I don’t know if there’s another kid on the team who works as hard as being the best she can be” said Ohnell.
But this rising star almost didn’t get the chance to lace-up.
“In third grade I asked if I could play tackle football, but my mom said no,” said Anika, “and then I asked again in fourth grade and she said no again, but then my dad just signed me up without telling her.”
That tenacity is what got her on the field, and is now what makes her stand out.
“As we were working through the system, she just rose to the top, and does a great job for us. Manages the game well for us” Ohnell says.
“Every practice she goes home, her father goes over the tape with her, it’s mechanical,” said Todd, “with a helmet on you can’t tell that she’s a girl – we don’t treat her any different.”
But being a girl in a male-dominated sport hasn’t always been a clear path.
“I’ll be warming up, and the other teams will be like “oh there’s a girl on their team! And I’m just like, “well, I’ve been here for two years, get used to it,” explains Anika “sometimes I just feel they’re afraid that I’m better than them.”
So far, the proof is in the points.
Her coaches say she’s a dual threat who can run the ball as well as she can throw it.
“I’ve talked to refs during the game – saying ‘what do you think of my quarterback, she’s pretty good isn’t she? And they’re astounded that a girl is playing quarterback for us” said Ohnell.
But Anika is as humble as she is skilled. “Couldn’t ask for better coaches, they’ve taught us so much.”