NC girl starts for college football team, goes viral ::



–As part of his college football schedule, Brooklyn Harker’s first career debut in free safety earlier this month was nothing more than a well-deserved opportunity for a hard-working player.

Outside of Chapel Hill High School, however, it was a viral sensation that gained thousands of social media impressions and screams from U.S. Rep. David Price and NFL security Tre Boston, among others.

For Caleb Kelley, Chapel Hill’s starting senior quarterback, that contrast played out in a fun way as he scrolled through Instagram two days after the Tigers beat Carrboro, 55-6, in their game of home opening.

“It took us by surprise,” he said. “For us, she’s just a teammate, so we didn’t think about it. But then I go through my feed and see her on Bleacher Report? I’m like ‘Oh my God, not at all.’ “

The sports media giant had taken a post from Harker’s mother, Jennifer, and shared it with some 16.5 million Instagram followers and 10 million Twitter followers. A week later, 16-year-old Harker was still trying to get a feel for a new fame she described as “crazy” and “very overwhelming.”

“But I’m also very, very grateful for such a great team and such good coaches,” she said after a 35-21 win over Person High School on September 17 that took the Tigers to 4-0. this season. “It was amazing.”

“Brooklyn is a football player,” Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh said. “Like I’ve said a thousand times, she just happens to be a girl too. She knows the game and she runs at her posts.

Harker, a junior whose family moved from West Virginia to North Carolina earlier this year, primarily plays safety and wide receiver for the Tigers. She’s also a backup kicker, a frequent contributor on the kickoff return and kickoff cover teams, and a member of the kick-off recovery unit inside Chapel Hill.

Marsh and his team “pick the times to play in Brooklyn where she’s going to be successful,” as they do with any player on the roster, the longtime coach said. Against Carrboro, a nearby school that didn’t win last spring and is 1-4 this fall, Marsh saw Harker as a logical choice to replace his injured starter in free safety.

Harker made two tackles in a resounding victory while taking some offensive shots against the Jaguars. Against Person, a stronger 3-A opponent, she played about six return / kickoff cover snaps and was substituted for two defensive games – the second of which was a man cover rep in the slot.

“Wherever they put me, it’s my favorite position,” Harker said.

Harker, also a footballer and fencer, has been playing tackle football since third year and said her experience has been surprisingly smooth. The worst she’s had at Chapel Hill so far is the occasional confused look from an opponent. Only one small incident of heckling, from eighth grade, occurred to me.

“There was a little bit of teasing, ‘You just got tackled by a girl,’” Harker said. “I didn’t really think about it. It was more like, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool. They tease their own teammates.

She added with a laugh, “I felt more powerful than anything else.”

But that mental toughness, she admitted, had been tested recently. Although Price, the Democratic congressman who represents Orange County, and Boston, the former UNC and Carolina Panthers security, were among hundreds of virtual supporters, not all of the comments were positive.

That is social media in 2021. Harker has tried to avoid negative reactions and jokes as much as she can at her own expense, but she thanked her teammates for providing the extra support.

“They backed me up with all the hate and stuff,” Harker said. “It was awesome. They just tell me not to let this get to my head, because I know my abilities and they know my abilities.

Or, as Kelley described it, “We told her these people didn’t matter.”

Never in the limelight, Harker enjoyed the more egalitarian benefits of his virality. On the one hand, more and more students and teachers are talking about the Chapel Hill football program, which did not field a varsity team in 2018 and went 1-10 in 2019, but is now in position for a second consecutive appearance in the 3-A playoffs.

More attention in the field also means more chances for senior graduates to get noticed by college recruiters. This 2022 group includes two of Harker’s closest friends on the squad: quarterback Kelley, who is interested in FCS Division I schools such as Elon and NC Central, and running back Elijah Ayankoya.

And, of course, there is a motivator. Parents across the country inundated Harker’s responses on Twitter, not only to applaud him, but also to share stories of their own daughters playing soccer: a 7-year-old running back in Ohio; a 10-year defender in Georgia. And 16-year-old Harker had a message for these young onlookers.

“If you want to do it, go ahead,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what people say.”


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