Cleat Geeks

Women of Sports: Grace Milstein

A model and a hard-hitting football player? You wouldn’t normally be putting these two things together, would you? You’d be wrong. And, Grace Milstein is proof of that.

Grace, a sophomore at Novato High School in Novato, California, is not only a model for a high-end wallet company, she also plays Wide Receiver and Safety for Novato’s JV football team. Grace began playing football in 2013. Her brother’s flag football team was short a player and had asked her to fill in for one game. Grace ended up loving the sport and finished the rest of the season as the only girl. The following year, Grace signed up for youth tackle football with Pop Warner and has been playing ever since. Shortly after signing up for football, Grace began modeling for a few different companies and entered the Miss Teen Marin beauty competition.

Grace doesn’t just excel on the football field and on the “runway,” she also does well in the classroom. Grace made Pop Warner Academic Honor Roll, and is now currently holding an impressive 3.8 GPA with her eyes on University of Southern California (USC). Last week I interviewed Grace and asked her the following questions.

Q: You play both Slot Receiver and Defensive Back for Novato High School’s junior varsity football team. I read in the Novato Advance that you prefer defense to offense. Why is that?
A: I like defense to offense because with defense I get to be proactive in analyzing the play and creating and applying strategy as to how to block, tackle, or intercept. That puts me in control rather than being reactive to an opposing player coming at me. I also actually enjoy the contact in hitting. I find it more fun to play.

Q: What teams have you played for?
A: I have played for Novato Stingers, Central Marin Chargers, and Novato High School JV.

Q: Do you play any other sports?
A: I am currently not doing any other sports, but I did Gymnastics from age 3 to age 11.

Q: Did Gymnastics help you get to where you are at today?
A: Anytime I do a new sport or activity it benefits me in with my agility, strength, stamina, and flexibility. Plus, it strengthens my ability to work as a team, follow a coach, and get along with others.

Q: I heard you have special locker room arrangements. Does that change when you play on the road?
A: When we have away games I usually change in the PE teacher’s office. Some schools have two different rooms in their locker rooms and I will go into the separate room.

Q: Being on a predominantly male team, have you ever had to deal with anything a male football player has never had to deal with?
A: Being a girl there is a different mindset when it comes to playing football. A lot of the kids at my school and my teammates don’t respect me for playing and give me a hard time. Sure, there are lots of people who think it’s really cool that I play, but being a girl I have to deal with people constantly doubting my ability to ‘handle’ it, and bringing me down by saying things like, “Football is a man’s sport, girls shouldn’t play football.”

Q: You carry an impressive 3.8 GPA along with taking AP classes. Do you have any tips for student-athletes when it comes to balancing academics and athletics?
A: My football coach would always say, “This is Novato High School Football, not Football at Novato High School.” I usually do my homework after practice and on weekends, so there are many nights I go to sleep very late. Eating well and drinking lots of water help me stay healthy, so I can play sports and do well in school. If you need to put school first, your coach will understand if you can’t come to practice because of a project or homework assignment. Grades determine if you are playing football, so you have to keep them up.

Q: What’s your favorite football moment so far?
A: Because being a girl on an all-boys team, a lot of the guys don’t like me very much. One day at practice this year the coach had me blocking for the running back, and I had to block against one of the kids who was often very rude to me and didn’t like me the most (I didn’t like him very much either). The first play I had to run to block him and I went at him with my full force and got low and hit him as hard as I could with my shoulder against his shoulder. I felt nothing, except that amazing sensation you get in your body after a good hit. Once the whistle blew and we were running the same play again the next few times I had to hit him. He was hesitant to hit me again and I know that I hurt him a little, and that’s why he didn’t want to hit again. After that practice ended, I went home so happy because finally, after all the emotional pain he had caused me, I had hit him and made him feel physical pain.

Q: Describe a typical practice.
A: After the bell rings signaling school is out, I head up to the lockers to get changed for practice. Depending on the day we will sometimes go to the weight rooms to get some lifting in, but our coaches expect us to be in the weight room on our own time, and not during practices. Most days we will usually just go up to the field and surprisingly, I am always one of the first onto the field. Once the whole team gets there we will run a team lap and head off into our grid to do warm-up stretches. Once we are done stretching we will break off into two different groups – Linemen and everyone else. I go with the majority of the team and we will run through passing drills. Then there is usually a quick water break to get rehydrated. After that the Linemen come over and we go over plays together as a team. We do that for about an hour and a half and rotate between offense and defense. Once again we take a water break, and after that we will do some type of conditioning. We might run Suicides or Snake up and down the field on the 10-yard markers. After we finish our conditioning the practice is over for the day. Our practices are about three hours each every school day.

Q: How do you train in the offseason?
A: I will go on runs and do ab workouts, but not a lot of lifting during the off-season.

Q: Do you have a pregame ritual? Any superstitions?
A: This current year playing for Novato High School, I didn’t really have a ritual. There were a few times we would all huddle in a circle and our coach would say a prayer, but we usually just hit the Novato “N” with our hands while leaving the locker room and once, on the field, chanted as load as we could, “Novato on me, Novato on 3, 1. 2. 3. Novato.” However, during my time playing for Central Marin Chargers we would say the Husker Prayer before every game, then jump up in down in a huddle yelling “ahhh” at each other.

Q: What is playing on your headphones?
A: Where I live most people don’t like Country Music, but that is what my playlist mostly consists of.

Q: Who gets the most credit for where you are today in life?
A: I’m happy my parents support my playing. My mom broke her neck when she was exactly my age now, through an acrobatic accident. She knows the risks of any sports, but believes that life should be lived as fully as possible. Also, all the people who have told me I can’t play football. They are the ones who have pushed me to prove them wrong showing them that actually I CAN.

Q: What is your outlook for next season?
A: I was planning on playing JV again, however I heard that we might not have a JV team next year. Instead we would have a Frosh/Soph team and a Junior/Senior Varsity team. But nothing is official yet, so I don’t know what team I will play on.

Q: In the Novato Advance you are quoted saying, “I play because I like it. I’m not playing to make a point or to make a statement.” Have your views changed?
A: I’m not only playing because I like it, I do also want to make a statement. As time has gone on I have realized that my playing a male sport can impact people. I am still playing because I like it; however, I am aware that I can change people’s views and inspire other young girls to go out and do things that are male dominant.

Q: Your JV coach, Coach Smith was quoted in Novato Advance saying, “She has a lot of heart. She’s not afraid, because when you are afraid, that’s when you are prone to injury. She’s a hard worker, she takes the hits and keeps coming back . . . she definitely knows the game.” What advice would you give to girls interested in playing football?
A: A lot of girls want to play football, but they are scared because:

  1. They might get injured; and
  2. They are worried about what people might say about them. Both are understandable reasons.

I would say that football definitely is a violent sport, especially when you get to high school and you’re playing against 200-pound kids. But, if they are really passionate about playing, they will be able to handle the roughness and the negative things people might say. Also, when any girl contacts me through social media asking for my advice I am always more than happy to talk to them and help them feel comfortable with joining a football team.

Q: You are an ambassador for Haakinson V. Can you tell me more about that?
A: Haakinson V is a high-end wallet brand that has selected me to help represent their brand. I did a photo shoot with them that they use in print and web promotional material. Hopefully there will be more things I help them with in the future. I got selected to represent them because they were looking for women to represent their slogan “Girl Boss.” They chose me because of both looks and because I was showing that women can be bold and do things that society doesn’t usually agree with by playing football.

Q: Mentally, how do you do to prepare for a photo shoot?
A: I don’t do a lot to mentally prepare, but basically during and before the photo shoot I remind myself to be confidant in myself and certain tips that I’ve learned throughout different shoots. For example not to look up and to always keep moving slowly.

Q: Is fashion modeling something you’d like to keep pursuing?
A: Definitely, at some point I hope to be doing both runway and commercial modeling.

Q: Being a model and a hard-hitting football player, do you ever hear crazy things from opposing teams? How do your teammates react?
A: The other teams that we play are actually usually very supportive of me once they realize they played against a girl. At the end of the games I’ll hear things like, “Dude, there’s a girl on their team.” There have been some times where, after the games, the players from the other team might send me a direct message through Instagram telling me they think that it’s cool that I play football and model.

Q: I also saw that you are sponsored by Gridiron Beauties. Can you tell me a little about that?
A: Gridiron Beauties is a company whose focus is to promote female football players throughout the world.

Q: Do you have any passions outside the gridiron?
A: I like to make movies and I am proud to be in a Cinematic Arts program in Marin School of the Arts. I study everything related to film two periods a day and we are constantly learning about cinematography and making short films with very modern and high-tech technology.

Q: Would you like to play football at the next level? College? NFL?
A: When I was younger I wanted to be the first female in the NFL; however, as I become older I’m realizing that it might not be a realistic idea and I am concerned with the stats on head trauma and concussions. After high school I definitely want to continue playing football, even if it is on an all-girls team of some sort.

Q: Do you still have your eye on USC for college? What would you like to do there?
A: Yes, I do. It is still my first choice for college and I would want to go there for their amazing film program.

Q: I saw a picture on your Instagram with the caption, “Smarter, Not harder: Make them not want to come back onto the field.” What do you mean by that and how does that describe your outlook?
A: It was actually something one of my coaches said to our team before a big game. It always stuck with me. Playing needs to be mental. Outsmart them with excellent execution and be smarter than the other team.

Follow Grace on Instagram.

One Comment

  1. Ilene

    March 4, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Great interview. I’m proud of you grace and very impressed

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