14 April 2022
“Football has always been a part of me,” she said.
The 17-year-old junior who grew up playing the male-dominated sport, making tackles since middle school, landed her spot last fall as a wide receiver and free safety for the Tigers.
“Her ability to play the game of football spoke for itself,” said Issac Marsh, Chapel Hill High School’s head football coach.
Marsh said the other players on the team quickly embraced Harker, the first female to play football for the school, as one of their teammates.
“When they saw how she ran her routes, how she participated in the drills, they looked at it the same way the coaches did — she’s a football player,” he said.
Harker said she had a hard time convincing her mom, Jennifer, to let her try out for the high school team.
“She was like, are you sure you don’t want to play field hockey?” Harker recalled.
The pride, however, was uncontained the night Harker started on defense. Jennifer tweeted a photo of her daughter in her Tiger uniform, with the hashtag Go Gridiron Tigers.
“It’s not so much about how big you are, I think it’s more how much heart you have,” said Harker. “As cheesy as that sounds.”
Heart for the game is not something Harker is lacking. While her teammates have had her back all season, not everyone has. Negative comments on social media can hurt, but Harker said she tries using them as motivation.
“I guess just being different from the typical football player, there’s a lot more pressure to perform well because I feel like if I mess up people are going to try to blame it on me,” she said.
Just as she has long looked up to college football players Sarah Fuller and Becca Longo, young aspiring athletes are now looking up to her.
While working the concession stand at a UNC football game with her CHHS teammates last season, a little girl with dreams of one day being a quarterback asked Harker for a picture and some advice.
“I just told her you always have to go 110 percent more than everybody else because you are at that disadvantage,” she said. “And I told her always be coachable because you’re never going to know everything about what you do. I just think that’s something I’m going to remember forever. It was definitely my first time realizing I’m making a difference.”
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