Cheerleading has been a tad different this year for South Forsyth Middle School’s Avery Wyckoff.
That’s because at football games in recent weeks she’s not only cheered on the Eagles team, but she’s kept a close eye on the player wearing No. 15 on game days. That is, after all, one of her closest friends—fellow eighth grader Maddie Franz.
With strokes of eye black and long, curly blonde hair that hides the number on the back of the jersey, Franz stands out when the Eagles play. When they score, the crowd immediately pays attention.
“They get louder watching Maddie sometimes than they do when we score,” Wyckoff said. “But it’s funny, we [the cheerleaders] always turn around to watch her kick. I like paying attention to how the audience reacts when she runs out there.”
Franz is in her first season kicking for the Eagles, still learning the details of the game, but just a few weeks into the year she already feels like just another player on the team.
“At first, I don’t want to say I was iffy about playing, but I was nervous,” Franz said. “But now, it just feels normal. It’s just another thing I do.”
Franz joined the team after showing off her kicking skills during gym class one morning. She took the advice to tryout, but didn’t think anything would come of it.
But Franz isn’t the only girl throwing on the pads in Forsyth County. In fact, she’s one of four close friends who all chose to pick up the sport—three of them are playing it for the first time.
Haylee Dornan, an eighth grader at Liberty Middle School, set the precedent. Dornan admits she is an avid football fan. She began playing football a year earlier than her peers and even cracked the depth chart as a wide receiver. She helped influence Franz to join her team on the other side of town.
“I love football,” Dornan said. “It’s a huge passion of mine. My Dad was the first one to kind of talk me into playing. Last year, I stopped playing after the spring game, and I didn’t know if I wanted to keep up with it on the field, but going into this year Maddie and I decided to kick.”
“I was only going to do it if she did it,” Franz said.
Dornan and Franz weren’t done recruiting kicking talent in the county.
They influenced a few other girls who play defensive positions with them on the elite 2002 United Futbol Academy U15 team of which they are all members—a team exclusive to the best soccer talent in the area.
“I think we have good chemistry, we trust each other, and we’re really good friends,” eighth grader Anna Halloran said. “We all have similar personalities, we all hang out together.”
Halloran and Isa Aguilar followed the lead and joined the football team at Vickery Creek. The Vipers are 4-0, but the two don’t brag about the middle school football standings. They just focus on each other’s game.
“The other day I had to actually make a tackle,” Aguilar, who kicks off for the Vipers, said. “I wasn’t really ready, so I pushed the guy out of bounds. Another time I tried to get in there and a guy’s elbow got me pretty good. It was new for sure, but I don’t know, I’ll get used to it.”
“The thing is, if they get past the team we’re the only ones left in the line of defense,” Halloran said. “We have to make the tackle.”
All four players are still getting used to the game, but they’re loving every minute of it.
“Now, when I go to practice I pretty much know what to do,” Franz said. “It wasn’t like that at first.”
Even Dornan had to adjust as she moved from receiver to kicker.
“The other day we had a safety, so I went and put the tee at the 30 instead of the 20,” she laughed. “It’s little things like that.”
Dornan has been watching game tape of the opposing teams, offers critique and helps her kicking mates from rival schools with the rules of the game. The players are entering a new venture, but there’s signs that they could commit to playing football long term. They would follow in the footsteps of Forsyth Central’s Brook Goodrow, a senior kicker on this year’s team.
“I mean, if I were to keep doing this, I could be a kicker at West. That would be really cool. I like the fact that this is something new, it makes me want to keep doing it,” Halloran said.
“I’ve played four sports. I played soccer since I was 3, basketball since I turned 9, I’ve started track but I’ve always been a runner. Football, I think, is the most exciting sport I’ve played so far. I’m having a lot of fun,” Franz said.