Cleat Geeks

Game 1 | Banishing Pre-Game Butterflies

Chicago Blitz vs Northern Kentucky Nightmare
Over the last few months, I have interviewed female football players and shared their experiences of playing football and their love of the game. Now, I’m changing the focus a bit to let you see the game through a different lens. I’m going to take you onto the field with the Chicago Blitz of the American Indoor Football League. My name is Julie and I am the kicker for the Blitz. This will be my 3rd season playing for them and my 6th year playing professional indoor football. After weeks of camp, practice, and roster cuts, we finally had our first game last Sunday night. We came out with a win over the Northern Kentucky Nightmare 33-22.

 

Thursday, March 10, 2016 – Last Practice Before Game Day
Thursday night I asked the coaches to go over special teams first. Usually these are covered at the very end of practice and, recently, I felt it had been neglected. Naturally, as a kicker I was freaking out. The coaches agreed and we started off practice with warm-ups and then moved into kickoff. Once we got kickoff and kick return out of the way, we split up into offense and defense — that’s when I stretch until a part of the field opens up for me to kick.

This wasn’t an ordinary practice. We had three veteran players quit mid-practice, including our starting QB. This wasn’t planned and nobody saw it coming. Everyone on the team looked lost and you could definitely tell that the team morale was down. What made it even worse was that this was our last practice before our first game. Talk about freaking out!

We finished practice with PATs and field goals. The Head Coach called us to the middle of the field, but before he could talk, receiver James Walton spoke up. I truly believe James’ speech brought the team morale back up after all that had transpired during practice. His speech had everyone silent and attentive. He addressed every situation going on, laid everything out on the table, and got everyone focused and determined for Sunday’s game. We did a team breakdown on “Family,” and walked to our Positions Coach, motivated, to see if we made the roster for game day.

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016 – Game Day
I’m not a morning person, but since it is the 1st game of the season, I’m wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, and waiting for that 7pm whistle. Nothing is more nerve-racking and exciting than the first kick off of the year.

3:30pm – Team Meal
The Pyramid Bar and Grill in Addison fed us our pregame meal. The food was so good! They had a nice spread of grilled chicken, Spanish rice, and salad to fuel us before game time. When I showed up, our director of player personnel called me over before I could grab food.

“Jules, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Is it true you are the emergency kicker for the Eagles?”

This had come to light overnight. I was not the emergency kicker for the Chicago Eagles; however, I had been at a game the night before to cheer on my kicker friends and several former teammates. The Eagle’s coach saw me after the game and invited me to a practice. Back at the team meal, I was a little upset that this issue was brought up in front of my teammates, especially so soon before kickoff. I wanted to talk to my coaches and the staff privately. I was waiting until after the game, but now I was on the spot in front of everybody. I ended up telling the team about the invite to practice and that I was here to play this game for the Blitz.

6:55pm – Get Ready
With nerves still hopping, we line up in numerical order and wait for our names to be announced before running out onto the field. This time was especially cool because there was a fog machine! I almost ran into Bri, our amazing team photographer, because I couldn’t see where I was going.

 

7:00pm – National Anthem and Coin Toss
This is when the pregame butterflies are at their worst. I have always wanted to be a Captain for an indoor football game, and this game my dream came true! I walked to the middle of the field with my co-captains, where we stood in a straight line facing the opposing team. The Nightmare chose “Heads,” but when Villa Park Mayor, Deborah Bullwinkel, flipped the coin, it landed on “Tails.” We deferred and got ready for kickoff. I grabbed my tee and ran to Coach Soto and my teammates. The pregame butterflies had flown away, and I was ready to kick the ball.

“Deep left,” Coach said and we took the field.

 

7:05pm – Kickoff
I lined up, took my approach, and kicked a beautiful ball deep into the left end zone. The ball took a nice bounce right around the opposing player and we were able to tackle him down by the 5 yard line. Kicking at the Odeum can be tricky. The ceiling is low which makes UNOs nearly impossible and if you kick the ball out of bounds, it gets spotted at the 20 yard line. So your best bet is to read the team and see where they line up and kick it away from them.

One thing I absolutely love about indoor football is the player-fan interaction. Family, friends, and fans can almost stand right next to you during the game. This can be good, bad, and very entertaining. I’ve seen everything from encouraging high fives, derogatory comments, to free beers. I was really excited that a few of my close friends came to the game. My boyfriend Danny and my roommate Natalie were there to cheer me on. They were able to stand next to me for most of the game; giving some good advice and keeping me relaxed.

Indoor football has more scoring than outdoor. It also has a running clock, so the game was over before I knew it. Our defense crushed it, holding the Nightmare to 22 points. Our offense began to get in-sync during the second half with our quarterback Demetrius Jones. The game ended up being a lot closer than it should have been, but we still got the win.

 

I missed my first PAT and the second one was blocked. Third time’s a charm! I drilled that one, but there was a flag on the play so we had to back up and re-kick. It was good and I made the rest of my kicks after that. Good snaps, good holds, and my line did an awesome job of blocking!

Our next game isn’t for a couple weeks. This will give us time to fine tune and prepare for the rest of the season. Although we came out with a win, it’s time to step up our game so we can bring a championship to Chicago!

Follow me on Instagram @julieharsh or Twitter @julieharsh99.

Photos by: BriAmo Photography
www.chicagoblitzfoobtall.com

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