Women in Pirate Athletics: Zoe Cordell becomes the first female Riverside football player

Zoe Cordell poses on the sideline after kicking a 25 yard field goal in Riverside’s win against Person. Photo from Pirate Athletics Media

On Friday, September 9, sophomore Zoe Cordell made Riverside history.

With 18 seconds left and the Pirates leading Person High School 32-18, Cordell kicked a 25-yard field goal and became the first female to play for the school’s football team.

There was no kicker for the first football game of the season, forcing the team to resort to two-point conversions in lieu of kicking for an extra-point after touchdowns. During a conversation at a men’s soccer game between Riverside’s athletic director, Robert Duncan, and the school’s sports media president, Collin Phillips, the topic came up. 

After returning to the stands of the game, Phillips mentioned it to some Riverside students and asked if anyone would be interested in trying out for the position. A varsity soccer player, Cordell expressed interest. Phillips, pleasantly surprised by her ambition, immediately drove home to get a football. 

Cordell, her friends, and Phillips took to the field after the game and practiced kicking field goals far after the stadium lights had been turned off. Senior soccer players Ian Langston and Reese Compton assisted in holding the football as she practiced.

“It was impressive,” Langston said. “She kicked it thirty yards with no shoes on.”

Using their phone flashlights to light up the field, they took videos of her kicks to send to the head football coach.

Cordell attended her first practice eight days later. 

“I had played [football] for fun, but never, like competitively,” Cordell said. “I was nervous because it was basically like a tryout, but all the guys were really nice.” 

As a sophomore, a club athlete, and an AP student, Cordell was already facing a busy year. 

“My dad encouraged me to go out, because it was fun and stuff,” she said. “And the coaches were really accommodating to my busy schedule.”

By the second home football game, Cordell was on the field in full uniform. 

“I was really nervous but I knew those first-game jitters had to come eventually,” she said.

With the Pirates in the lead and the team threatening to score again, Cordell took to the 15 yard line. 

“I honestly can’t remember anything besides talking to the holder,” she said. “He asked me if I was ready and I said yes. I guess I kicked it, and then everyone was around me. I felt really happy; the guys were all really supportive.”

While Cordell is Riverside’s first female student athlete to compete on the varsity football team, she hopes she will not be the last.

“I didn’t realize it would be such a big deal until it happened. I was all over instagram,” she added, blushing. 

Cordell appreciate the recognition but doesn’t want people to overlook the rest of the team. 

“I did not win the game,” she said. “The boys played great, it was a team effort. I think that goes unrecognized because I had a three-point kick.”. 

Women in high school football is a growing phenomenon. Nationally, the number of females playing tackle football is steading increasing. And only a few miles away in Chapel Hill, Brooklyn Harker is Chapel Hill High School’s starting safety. 

Cordell tells any girl interested in playing football to give it a try.

“Go do it,” she said. “Even if you’re scared…YOLO!” 

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