When Tristin Keller was in third grade, she saw a sport she loved and just wanted to play it. She wasn’t consumed with gender barriers or stigmas. She just wanted to be out there playing football.
When she started, she was just doing what she loved, but now — nearly a decade later — Keller is becoming a mentor for other girls and proving to doubters that she belongs on that field with the boys. After a tweet about her first varsity start with the Mason High School (TX) football team went viral, she’s been able to reach other young girls who aspire to be under those Friday night lights.
Growing up, Keller naturally gravitated towards football on the playground. She eventually wanted to take it from the school yard to the big leagues, and in Texas, high school football is the big leagues for so many, and not just elementary school kids.
“I want to be like those guys we watch every Friday night,” she told her parents.
Soon enough she was signed up. As Keller fell more in love with the sport, there were people who thought the boys on the field would eventually outgrow her and she’d lose interest in the sport.
“‘The boys are gonna get bigger and she’s not gonna like it anymore,'” Keller told CBS Sports she heard from spectators.
But what other people think she may have lacked in size, Keller has always made up for in preparation. It’s something Keller’s parents have constantly reminded her of — how hard she has to work, especially being in a position not many are in.
“If you want to earn a spot at something, and you’re coming from the underdog, you have to be two, three times better than them,” they’d tell her.
When choosing starters, Keller said she knows if she and a teammate were close in on-field value, it would likely be her male counterpart chosen.
“They’re gonna want to choose the boy,” she said, admitting that when she is playing even the most accepting put a slight spotlight on her, wondering just what she can do out there and if it will hold up to the rest of the team.
“If I earned my spot, I clearly earned my spot,” she said.
And Keller earned her spot.
The wide receiver and cornerback is on the varsity football team while also juggling an array of other sports all year round, including track and field, basketball, softball and tennis. While her goals for playing football stop in high school, and she’s committed to playing basketball at Abilene Christian University, Keller hopes her presence in the sport inspires others.
Her viral tweet from September has opened up the conversation of equality, with many others trying to pave a path for girls and women in the sport thanking her for persevering for what she wants to do.
“I hope it gives them the confidence to go for it… if girls want to play, I want them to just be able to freely go out there and say, ‘I want to do this,'” she said, adding that she hopes coaches everywhere accept and welcome in girls who want to lace up.
Keller has heard stories of coaches telling girls they don’t care how good they are, they won’t be put in because of their gender. She says the support from her tweet will only give her more confidence to go out there and crush her position and gender norms.
“All those awesome comments and saying, ‘Wow, we watched your highlight, it’s good,’ makes me feel like I can do this, even more than I felt like I did before,” she said.
Though young, Keller has excellent words of advice for any going through a similar journey and has responded to many comments on social media.