Freshman girl scores a spot on high school football team

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 27, 2021

 Ella Krajewski, 14,  is a kicker for the Stoney Creek freshman football team.

Ella Krajewski, 14, is a kicker for the Stoney Creek freshman football team.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Krajewski, 14, practices kicking before an Oct. 14 game against Adams High School  with assistant freshman football coach Jeff Custonia.

Krajewski, 14, practices kicking before an Oct. 14 game against Adams High School with assistant freshman football coach Jeff Custonia.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Ella Krajewski, 14, has been playing soccer since she was 3, but it wasn’t until last year that she discovered she had talent for another sport — football.

“When I was in middle school, in eighth grade, one day after school me and some of my friends went out and we were kicking the football around and they were kind of surprised that I had a leg,” she said. “Later, we went to a football game and I was like, ‘It would just be an absolute dream to be playing under the lights one day and to have everyone watching.’ After that, it was all I worked toward.”

When Ella Krajewski shared her newfound dream with her family, they encouraged her to follow her heart.

“After dinner, we went to the field and for hours, my dad just stood behind the field goal net. My brother held the ball and I was just kicking them through and through, moving back and back. We were watching videos on how to try to perfect it to get it right. They, honestly, were the first ones to teach me,” she said.

From then on out, any spare moment that Ella Krajewski had — when she wasn’t tied up with homework, travel soccer or competing as a sprinter in track and field — she was on the football field practicing her kicks in the hopes of making her high school’s football team.

“I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I just had to work hard for it,” she said.

Nick Merlo, the head football coach at Stoney Creek High School, said Ella Krajewski came up to him at the end of school last year and asked about playing football for the freshman football team.

“She is an elite soccer player, and she inquired about kicking, and we said, ‘absolutely.’ She had the opportunity to work with our varsity kicking coach, along with other kickers in our program, and she worked really hard this summer,” he said.

When it came time to try out for the freshman football team, Krajewski had butterflies in her stomach.

“I was shaking,” she said. “I was so scared, because I had never really performed in front of everyone or compared my kicks with anyone else’s, so I was super nervous, but the amount of effort and time I had put into trying to make this team, I said, ‘I’m not backing out now. I have to get it.’”

Ella Krajewski’s hard work paid off and she is now a kicker on the team, handling extra points and field goals.

“A lot of people aren’t expecting a girl on the team, but the coaches, my teammates and the parents have just been super accepting,” she said. “It’s so much fun.”

Ella Krajewski’s dad, Ken, said he vividly remembers his daughter’s first kick on the field.

“Everybody stopped, everybody was watching, and I just said to myself, ‘I hope this is a good kick,’ because I thought it was going to set the precedent for everything going forward — and I think it was probably the straightest and farthest kick that she ever had,” he said. “When that happened, everybody just kind of nodded their head and went back to their own business and I think everybody realized, ‘OK, we have somebody who can fill this role.’”

Ken Krajewski said he knew at a very young age that his youngest daughter was a gifted athlete.

“She’s had a lot of success playing soccer and she’s had a lot of success playing track, so for me, the hardest part for her wasn’t the physical part of (football), it was more the mental part of it — having the courage, having the determination to walk out onto a field with 50 boys looking at you and coaches looking at you. Having the courage to do something like that — I don’t know if I could have put myself in those shoes,” he said.

While Ella Krajewski isn’t the first female football player on the team in the history of the school — Merlo noted there were a few women on the Stoney Creek High football team when he was a football player at Rochester High School — he said she is the first in recent years.

“In our program history, since I have been here, she is the first female football player that we’ve had,” Merlo said. “She is working hard this fall and contributes to the team with place kicking for us. We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

 Ella Krajewski hopes others can use her story as encouragement to follow their dreams.

“I really want to inspire young people and show them that they can do what they want, even if it doesn’t fit what others might think,” she said. “Go out of your comfort zone, and if you work hard enough for it. you’ll be able to get it.”

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