Female players lining up this season for Unaka

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 6, 2018 at 4:29 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Unaka High School has a couple of female players on its varsity roster this season and neither one is a kicker.

Instead, Cydney Robertson and Sondra Darby are expected to contribute heavily to the Rangers’ defense this season.

Robertson is a starting defensive tackle in the 4-3 scheme and Darby is a backup linebacker. It is the second season for Darby, a sophomore, whose brother, Charlie, plays the same position.

“Both of those ladies are big assets to our team,” Unaka head coach O’Brien Bennett said. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised in the modern day that these young ladies can compete with the guys. They’re tough mentally, physically and they’re very coachable.

“They hadn’t played football and developed any bad habits, so they came to us as a blank slate. When you’re willing to work, be coachable and learn, good things happen.”

Robertson started working out with the team last fall before taking the full plunge her senior season. The players saw how serious she was and there have been no problems fitting in with the team.

“The boys really accepted me from day one,” Robertson said. “They pushed me to make me better every day.”

She has certainly gotten better as her head coach said that Robertson has truly earned her starting spot.

“She’s not there because we don’t have anybody,” Bennett said. “She came out there and took the job from the guys. She has proven not only can she hold her own, but she can play. It surprised me, but she’s worked hard in the weight room and worked hard to learn what’s going on.”

While the high school boys quickly accepted them as teammates, Darby explained it was tough for some adults to see girls playing football. They’re far from the first females to play varsity football in Tennessee.

Back in 1998, Jessica Schultz played fullback and outside linebacker for Jellico High School. That September, she became the first female in the United States to score a touchdown in a varsity game with a 1-yard run against Williamsburg, Kentucky.

“I wanted to play football in middle school, but the coach kept telling me to see different teachers,” Darby said. “They kept putting me off until I became a water girl. I was really excited when I came up and got to play. Coach Bennett has supported my every decision.”

She’s learned the stances, where to hit as a linebacker and feels she has a good grasp of the plays.

Some of the challenges are more logistical like finding places to change into their uniforms on the road.

Robertson said she’s always enjoyed hanging around boys more than girls, but she’s definitely not a tomboy.

“I love doing my makeup and I never tried to sacrifice that when I started playing football,” she said. “I like doing girl things like fashion, makeup and all those kind of things.”

Darby added she enjoys drawing, cooking and cleaning and said, “As girls, it takes us a little longer to get ready.”

For her and Robertson, the time is fast approaching for the Friday night lights with Unaka’s first game against North Greene on Aug. 17.

“Football is such a fun sport,” Darby said. “It’s more than what I expected so far. It’s amazing.”

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