Gracelyn Woods is a sophomore free safety and wide receiver. After years of wishing she could battle on the field, this is her first season playing for the Bixby Spartans in Bixby, Oklahoma. Through adversity, she continues to elevate her game and her mental toughness. Gracelyn embraces the challenges of football and encourages other female athletes to follow their love for the game.
Read below from Gracelyn's point of view on how football has made a positive impact on her life.
I started wanting to play football in fourth grade. I was a cheerleader when I was younger just to be close to the football field. One day, I was sitting in the bleachers at my high school varsity football game. I wanted so badly to figure out how to be on the field that I started researching on the school website how to become a water girl.
Then it hit me. “Why don’t I just play?” I gathered all the courage I had and asked the head coach. He gave me a warm welcome and I officially joined the team in January of 2020.
I am an adrenaline junkie. I love the game, the contact, and the running. The strategy and intensity drive me. Every time I cover someone, it is so fun for me that I glow after the play. Everything happens so fast and my brain has to do multiple things at once. I love that challenge.
When I first joined the team, all the guys wanted me to quit. Their reaction was a challenge. They didn’t think I’d come this far and they weren’t very accepting. But since then, I’ve earned the respect of most of them and we’re all friends. There are still a few that purposely pick on me and haven’t accepted that I’m here to stay. I do my best to ignore them.
I tend to be a little too hard on myself. It’s a lot of pressure being on a 5-time State Championship team and I am scared to mess up. I have to remember this is my first year playing and I’m not as fast or as strong as the boys. If I drop a pass or get sauced by a receiver, I beat myself up about it. But I’ve got passion so I keep going.
I know if I keep working at it, I'll end up exactly where I want to be. I’m trying my absolute hardest to do well on my team. I’ve had a very hard time learning my team’s plays. It gave me severe anxiety, high stress levels, and jitteriness. It got so hard I almost quit, but I told myself it will be worth it if I keep going. I just have to try harder.
My most memorable moment was on my very first day of conditioning. We were doing 110s, which is a lot of running. I was so tired that I started losing my sight and couldn’t breathe. I knew I couldn’t stop running because if I did, I wasn’t good enough to be there with them.
I kept on pushing. Eventually I couldn’t see. I heard a voice telling me what yardage I was at. A teammate was running along beside me and encouraging me not to stop. After I made it through this, his friend group accepted me and we’re still all good friends. Since I’ve started football, I’ve gotten stronger, faster, and I have more stamina.
My biggest success has been overcoming the haters and my own mind. Seeing how far I’ve come has really helped me. I always used to worry what people thought of me and felt that if I did one thing wrong they instantly didn’t like me. But I’ve really overcome that mind state. Now I don’t care what people think. I do what I want and now I’m comfortable doing it.
The guys and the coaches have now become like family to me. The coaches are so awesome and really funny. They haven’t treated me any different or given me any special treatment because I’m a girl. They trained me just like I am one of the boys. I also love the road trips that we go on because I like listening to music and the solitude is nice.
After I graduate, I intend to pursue a career in the equine industry. I want to compete at a high level, and train and flip horses. I plan to finish my football career in high school. I love the game, but I love horses more.
Playing football alongside the Bixby Spartans has by far been the best experience of my life so far. It’s been very difficult for me, but it has also been the most fun I’ve ever had. The program is absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t quit no matter how hard it gets. I also couldn’t have done this without my parents, who have been a strong support system.
My message to other girls who want to play football is that if you really want it, go for it. I’m not saying it will be easy, I’m saying it will be worth it. In the end, what matters most is what makes you happy.