“When I tell people, it’s always … ‘Wow.’ And they’ll ask, ‘What position do you play? Kicker?’But that’s not the case. I’m out on the field making tackles.” Hope Nelson recalled this sort of familiar exchange she’s had with people in an interview with The Indy Star about her career as a football player at Indian Creek High School in Trafalgar, Indiana, where she played defensive back and wide receiver.
Now, she’s a freshman at Franklin College and is helping out as an assistant coach on the school’s football team. But getting back out on the gridiron and putting some hits on people is what she really wants to do. “I want to do that here. I know I can do it.”
Nelson’s drive, strength, speed, conditioning, and skills are not at all in question. She can squat 245 pounds. Prior to playing football in high school, she was a competitive dancer for years and was a cheerleader.
But she made the jump from cheering on the sideline to suiting up and playing after she tore her ACL twice while cheerleading. “So I went to football,” she says, “and I’ve loved it ever since.” At 5-feet, 5 inches and 155 pounds, she’s a smaller player, but her high school teammates said she still hits very hard on the field.
Becoming a skilled player in a sport dominated by guys has been the least of what she’s had to overcome in life. When Nelson was 3 years old, she suffered a devastating freak injury while playing an innocent game of hide-and-seek that left her totally blind in her right eye. Despite surgery, doctors were unable to restore her vision. And in cheerleading and dance competitions, the lack of vision in her right eye never put her in any jeopardy. But on a football field, she said, it can have serious drawbacks.
“I remember there was one play where someone came up right on the right side of me, and I didn’t see it — so I was completely blindsided.” She said if she makes the team next year, she will have to learn to compensate for her limited vision. And she’s faced some negativity, but she brushes it off saying that she doesn’t have time to waste devoting her thoughts to someone else’s prejudices.
Apart from her dreams on the football field, Nelson has some impressive ambitions. She’s a double major — in marketing and political science — and plans to go to law school and hopes to one day become a sports agent.
“I’m all about female empowerment,” she says.
Below watch the full interview with Nelson.
Read the full story at The Indy Star.