One of the cornerbacks on Indian Creek’s football roster is 5-foot-5, though her determination makes up for any physical shortcomings.
That’s right — her.
Senior Hope Nelson, a former Braves cheerleader, will be on the field with Indian Creek players Monday when first-year coach Brett Cooper begins putting his team through non-contact drills in preparation for the upcoming season.
Nelson’s role when the Braves open at North Putnam on Aug. 18 is still unknown. She could be a starter in the defensive secondary or further down the depth chart as a second- or even third-teamer.
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Maybe Cooper starts her on special teams in an attempt to provide Nelson a crash course on the speed and physicality of the game.
Whatever the case, she’s ready.
“I was looking for something to challenge me to become a better athlete and person,” she said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for the team that I have for supporting me, encouraging me and pushing me to be my best.
“I have loved football since I was little. It was something I always wanted to play. I’ve always been the fearless type. I’ll go after what I want.”
This is the third consecutive season a girl is playing football at Indian Creek.
Former Braves placekicker Claire Skillman, who graduated in the spring, converted 34 of 44 point-after attempts and made one field goal during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Nelson’s situation is different. Being a cornerback requires her to use her 145-pound frame in an attempt to either defend, tackle or shed the blocks of an opposing receiver.
Speed, timing, instincts and an ingrained fearlessness are critical elements every down played.
“Starting is definitely a goal, but it’s one of those things that I’m playing with teammates who have been playing football since they were in bantam (league),” Nelson said. “This is my first year ever playing, so I completely understand if they get a spot ahead of me.”
Nelson isn’t deterred despite being shorter, lighter and less experienced than nearly every one of her Indian Creek teammates.
After all, being a varsity cheerleader the past three years required commitment. The same applies to the 14 years Nelson has spent being a competitive dancer and dedicating herself to schoolwork to earn a 3.5 grade-point average.
Nelson, who wants to one day major in marketing at Franklin College, knows what she wants — at this time it’s to play football for Indian Creek.
“I think sometimes girls are afraid to go after what they want,” Nelson said. “A lot of it is the fear of what other people think. I care to a certain extent, but you just have to be your own person and go after what you truly want.”
Nelson attended Northwood Elementary School in Franklin from kindergarten through third grade. She’s been at Indian Creek since the start of her fourth-grade school year (2009-10), which means knowing many of her teammates roughly half her life.
They were immediately supportive of her decision to play, Nelson said, as was Cooper, who was hired in February after being an assistant coach at Massillon (Ohio) High School the past two football seasons.
“The first thing I did when I first got here was sit down with all the parents, and she was a prospective player,” Cooper said. “Hope really just fit in perfectly. She works hard in the weightroom, and, no, it’s not been awkward at all.”
THE NELSON FILE
Name: Hope Nelson
School: Indian Creek High School
Family: Parents, John and Jennifer; brothers, Jack, 8, and Nicholas, 5
Favorite food: Strawberries
Favorite class: Psychology
Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts