Fami Olorunnisola

Junior Fami Olorunnisola plays on the line for the Bordentown junior varsity football team. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Fami Olorunnisola came to a realization. Rather than harness her zealous play in the athletic arena, she found a way to make it fit in.

“Around sophomore year I was always told I was aggressive, and it made me upset,” she said. “I kid you not, I’ve gotten so many fouls in basketball because I can be an aggressive person. So I was trying to find a sport where I could play and be aggressive and just be myself. I was never myself playing any other sport. And that’s when I thought about football. And everybody was saying ‘How about football?’ and here I am today.”

She’s here all right, playing offensive guard and defensive tackle for the Bordentown High JV team. The junior was inspired to go out for the Scotties after playing a less aggressive style of football that frustrated her.

“We have a Powder Puff flag football event for the girls,” she said. “One thing that always made me upset was how I couldn’t tackle or be as aggressive because it’s flag. Even growing up and playing different sports I was always told ‘Oh you’re too aggressive,’ so I figured why not play a sport where I could be aggressive, I could hit and basically be myself.”

And she’s doing a pretty good job of it, according to head coach Skip Edwards.

“She plays at least three quarters of each game,” he said. “We don’t hold her back. She’s one of the guys out there, she’s proven she can handle herself, she can protect herself. We can round her into the person she needs to be. She learns what we want and she does it the way we teach her.

Mike Smith, who is the varsity offensive line coach and also the JV coach, says he has enjoyed having Fami on the team.

“She’s a great kid, tough as nails and very coachable,” he said. “She’s very interested in not just playing, but learning the game. She has, at times, struggled with her confidence, but the coaches and players have embraced her and supported her in her growth. She’s been a great addition to the team and has easily acclimated to being part of the Scottie football family.”

Girls playing football is not the eye-opener it was two decades ago. However, not many have been right there in the trenches, using physicality to mix it up with a guy on the other side of the ball.

But that was the dream position for Olorunnisola, who literally knew nothing about football until she approached Edwards about playing in December of her sophomore year. When asked where she wanted to play, Fami wasn’t sure of the position but said she wanted to protect the quarterback.

“Then I finally said, ‘Oh wait, it’s a lineman,’” Olorunnisola said. “He said ‘OK do you want to play offense or defense?’ and I said both sides.”

Edwards was open to her offer. “When she said she wanted to play football, I wasn’t skeptical because I had a girl on my team at Holmdel. But she was a kicker, a very good kicker. So it was, ‘Hey if you want to come out and play, we can’t baby you.’”

Fami didn’t want any special treatment and once the coach gave his blessing, Olorunnisola had to convince her parents. Her dad, Damiola, was all for it. But mom Bukola had to be talked into it. She finally relented, but in the back of her mind thought Fami would back out at the last minute.

“She still didn’t believe me until I started going to the weight room and she said ‘OK, I think she’s gonna do it,’” Olorunnisola said. “And then when I came home with my equipment she was like ‘Oh my God, you’re serious about playing!’ She thought I was going to quit in the middle or something.”

Suddenly, Olorunnisola was playing a sport that she had no use for as a kid.

“I actually hated football,” she said. “Growing up, I never even thought about playing it or watching it at all. Even now I’m learning the rules and cadences and things like that. I used to say that football is easy, all they’re doing is hitting each other and smacking each other. And boy did I learn quickly when I joined the football team.”

Indeed she did. That hitting and smacking was a little more intense than she ever imagined.

“The physical part did come as a surprise,” Olorunnisola said. “The first day we did tackling drills I was sore. The next day I woke up I was sore, I was in pain. I was like ‘Mom, I want to quit.’ I was in so much pain it was honestly like a shock. I actually thought about quitting that day, but I was like ‘No, I’m gonna keep going.’

“The coach told me that’s what would come with it, especially if I’d never done tackling drills before. He said it was going to be painful but I’d get used to it. Now I’m used to it. I can tackle anything and it won’t hurt.”

The other concern, of course, was how her male teammates would welcome Fami to the squad.

“That was probably my biggest fear,” she said. “Will the guys like me? Will they treat me differently? But they all treat me like I’m one of them. I love them all dearly.”

Edwards has seen no problems in that area, saying, “They’ve been very supportive, the coaches have been supportive, her parents. She gets a lot of support in what she does and I think that has given her a lot more confidence about her self esteem and the player she is.”

The opposition, however, can be a different story.

“Of course she caught a little bit of flack from the other team realizing there is a girl out there,” Edwards said. “They didn’t know what they were gonna do or how they would handle it. But she’s done a great job out here. She hangs right in there, jumps right on the scout team at left guard, never hesitates.

“When she goes against the varsity guys, the tempo is much faster than what she sees on a Monday (in JV games). It’s not bad for her to do that. She will engage with the person, but she’s gotta learn how to keep her feet.”

It hasn’t been easy for Olorunnisola, who stands 5-foot-7, 170 pounds. It’s one thing to be playing a sport you know nothing about, and it’s even more disconcerting to be playing against the boys. But she has been figuring it out.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was really scared at first,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I talked to the coach but I kind of kept to myself. I never talked to my teammates or anything like that because I was just nervous. Going into the weight room I would ask the coach a million questions. I was a scared little girl, but now I’m very comfortable.

“I do know the game now, looking at it from the beginning of playing and where I am now I do know the rules. I still am learning so I still ask questions but I feel I do know the game.”

Fami says she is accused of trash talking at times, but points out that it’s the other way around.

“I have the pink glittery mouth guard so when they see that and see the hair they kind of assume I’m a girl, but they’re not sure,” she said. “After the game when I take off my helmet they’re surprised. A lot of them say ‘Good job, good for you playing football.’ Sometimes in the game they like to intimidate me or scare me, but I’m (thinking) ‘I’m not scared of them.’”

It’s the kind of attitude needed down in the trenches. What makes Fami’s aggressiveness a bit surprising, is that she is so pleasant and affable in conversation.

“Yeah but she’ll put her game face on,” Edwards said. “She’ll block, she’ll tackle, do whatever she has to do. I guess she’s a pleasant surprise. I always have an eye on her to see how she’s doing.”

For the most part, the coach has liked what he’s seen from a player who has finally put her aggressiveness to use in a good way.

Recommended for you