It started as a joke during a Central Noble girls soccer team practice last fall. As the best humor grounds itself in reality, however, it has turned into double sport duty for a pair of Cougars athletes.
Seniors Erika Maneke and Ellie Cole provide versatility and leadership on the field for the girls soccer team while also handling the extra point and kickoff duties, respectively, for the football team.
“The two of them and a third (player) last year, when we'd practice shooting, they'd have a tendency to sail the ball over the goal like a field goal would be,” said Nate Wilz, Central Noble's girls soccer coach.
Here's where the joke became reality. Cole's older brother, Alex, kicked for the Cougars football team for two years. Since she already had that familiarity, the next thing to do was check whether it was possible to play both sports. Scheduling was no problem – football on Fridays, and no soccer games. Wilz was on board, as was football coach Greg Moe.
“It was just kind of 'why not, let's try it,' we're a small school,” Ellie Cole said.
While their positions on the soccer team were secure, Maneke and Cole weren't just handed the varsity football positions.
“We had to work for it,” Maneke said. “We had to practice, and by the end, we proved we could kick well.”
Logistics proved the next challenge. But Maneke and Cole remain heavily involved with a litany of school activities on top of athletics. Cole's active in theater in addition to both sports, while Maneke's “involved with (probably) every activity you can possibly be in the school,” according to Central Noble athletic director Tyler Schuller.
And with soccer practice not starting until 4 p.m., they put on their football gear right when school ends at 3:15 and get their kicking work in. Then, it's off to soccer.
The one hurdle that hasn't actually become one? Acceptance in a male-dominated sport like football. It started with Moe, and it's filtered down through the entire team.
Maneke knew little about football when first trying out. Despite that, her teammates have stepped up, giving insights, words of encouragement, whatever is needed.
“They've been very accepting,” Maneke said. “I asked a bunch of questions, and they're always willing to help us out.”
But what about the nerves? Kicking extra points with linemen trying to block? It's different than soccer.
“When I'm about to go out and kick, I get a little more nervous, but when I make one, I'm just excited and pumped for the rest of the game,” Maneke said.
It's a little different for Cole. After kicking off, she has been instructed to run off the field rather than trying to make a tackle. Not that she doesn't want to.
“I would love to tackle someone, but (Coach Moe) doesn't want me to get hurt,” Cole said. “I have two teams depending on me, so I have to keep that in mind.”