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Girl anchors the O-Line for North 12U Pop Warner

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 14, 2021

Abrihanna Bennett, 12, clears the way for a North Fort Myers ball carrier during the Pop Warner Jamboree last week in Cape Coral. CHUCK BALLARO

When you see a girl participate in a Pop Warner program, often times she’s a cheerleader.

But sometimes you will see a girl on the sidelines, not wearing a skirt and shaking pom-pons, but wearing a helmet and getting ready to get down in the mud.

In North Fort Myers, you’re seeing that on the 12U football team, and she isn’t exactly riding the bench.

Abrihanna Bennett, 12, is in her first year as a player and has already established herself as the starting right offensive tackle and defensive tackle on a team that is looking to defend its Peace River Conference crown.

Bennett, who played soccer when she was younger, said she always saw the boys play football and wanted to join them.

“I found out I really liked it, so I joined to play football and got on the team,” Bennett said. “I thought about it for a year and my grandma decided I was good to do it.”

Bennett has immediately fit in and the coaches have shown her the ropes of playing on the line, without showing any favoritism.

Many of the boys have played in the program for years and the coaches maintain a high level of standards and accountability. That helped Bennett meld with the team.

She has worked hard and earned her way onto the starting lineup on a team that can go deep into the playoffs this year.

“This is my first year, so I really don’t know how to feel. I know I’ll be nervous for the first game,” Bennett said. “My teammates treat me great and call me by my name. When I do something wrong, they tell me and pat me on the back.”

Bennett’s coaches have also given her rave reviews. Steve Brown, 12U head coach, said she is one of the most coachable players she has whose raw talent has yet to be unearthed.

“She’s an inspiration. I’m the father of four daughters who are all girly-girls and wish one of them had played because it’s the sport I love. On the field, if you didn’t know she was a girl, you wouldn’t know it,” Brown said. “She doesn’t ask for special treatment and works as hard as the boys and hits as hard as the boys. She’s one of our best linemen.”

Brown said when he first saw Bennett on the roster, he was going to have change the way he coached people to accommodate her. That hasn’t happened.

There will be some challenges ahead that will need to be addressed, such as dressing up in the locker room, but that might be the only one, Brown said.

“She is so coachable we don’t realize she’s a girl. It’s awesome that she found something she wanted to do and has worked really hard to get there,” Brown said.