One foot in a boy's world: Hilton Head High football team starts female kicker

loberle@islandpacket.comSeptember 22, 2013 

It was the third quarter of Hilton Head Island High School's football game against Ridgeland-Hardeeville on Aug. 31, and Khalil Lewis had just run in a touchdown to give the Seahawks a 26-point lead.

Savannah Reier put in her mouth guard and jogged onto the field for the extra point. The sophomore kicker had just missed a point-after touchdown attempt and was looking for redemption.

Snap, hold, contact.

It was the kind of kick Savannah knew was good as soon as it left her foot, and she watched as the ball went high, sailing just inside the left upright.

The play was over. The extra point had been scored. But instead of jogging off the field, Savannah found herself flat on the ground.

"I watched it go through," she said. "And then I got knocked down."

She didn't see the opposing defender come at her, only felt him as he gave her a strong shoulder. It was her second game, 11th point-after touchdown, and the first time she'd been hit on the field.

Since joining the team this summer, Savannah knew it wasn't a matter of "if" she would take a hit during a game, but she was nervous about the "when."

BECOMING A FOOTBALL PLAYER

Savannah never set out to be the first female to start for the Seahawks.

As a freshman, she was the starting point guard on the girl's basketball team and when asked on Ask.fm, a social media site where users can anonymously ask other users questions, why she plays football, she answered, "They asked me."

Her kicking career began on a June evening as a random family activity this past summer. Her father, Travis Reier, was a kicker for his high school football team, as was his father. Watching Savannah play soccer, it had crossed his mind a time or two that his daughter might have what it takes to follow in his footsteps. He saw her leg power, the way the ball came off her foot.

So he went to Walmart and bought two $9 footballs, the cheapest he could find, and a tee. They went to the stadium, and by the end of the night Savannah was making 40-yard field goals.

Her mom, Heather Reier, took a video of one of those 40-yard field goals, which Savannah later posted on Facebook. The video began circulating, eventually finding its way to the football coaching staff at the high school.

And as the football team found itself without a kicker, head coach B.J. Payne asked if anyone knew how to get in touch with Savannah Reier. In July, Savannah officially joined the team.

"I used to play with kids in the neighborhood and rough them up a little," she said. "But I never actually thought I'd do it. I never actually thought I'd get the chance."

On her third day of practice, the reality of being a football player set in as she put on the full uniform for the first time.

It was picture day, and Savannah struggled to puzzle together the uniform and pads.

She put on the girdle -- the pants with pockets for pads -- but they were inside out. Lauryn Bush, a football manager and Savannah's basketball teammate, had come in to help, and found the boys lingering outside Savannah's locker room, eager to see their new teammate in full gear.

She didn't like the way the uniform felt or looked. Her pants were falling down, even with a belt. The sleeves of her extra-large jersey hung down. Her shoulders had never looked so big.

Savannah waited until everyone else was finished getting their pictures taken before she walked out.

"I was nervous about the whole thing, just playing football. I was nervous about what people would think, all the things that girls are usually nervous about. I was nervous about what to do.

"I was really nervous about getting hit."

She was scared more than she was hurt.

Savannah looked to her right and saw her teammate, senior linebacker Chase Rinehart.

Rinehart's only thought was to handle the situation. He put up his hands, dropped his head and ran his helmet into the defender, knocking him down.

With the feeling that a fight was about to break out, she thought to herself, "OK, I'm getting off the field now."

Rinehart was doing what he and the rest of the Hilton Head team had been instructed to do: Protect Savannah, and if anyone took a shot at her, take care of it.

In football, nobody goes after the kicker. Especially not their kicker.

Because the Seahawks take it a little more personally.

'I'M NOT A BOY'

For games, Savannah ties her hair in a long braid with a bow on the end.

"I'm not a boy. I don't really want people thinking I'm a boy," she said. "I'm on the football field, and it's a boy's sport, but I just need something girly."

Her nails are painted fuchsia, she wears gold hoop earrings and has long brown hair, kissed by the sun with subtle golden streaks, pulled to the side in a ponytail.

"I dress like a girl. I look like a girl. And sometimes the stuff I say will sound girly and they'll be like, 'Don't act like such a girl,'" Savannah said. "I'm like, 'OK, well, I am a girl.'"

Once her pads are on, she can't reach behind her head to fix her hair, so she'll braid it before she puts on her gear or have a manager or trainer do it for her. Her hair sometimes gets caught in the screws and rings of her pads, and she'll ask the boys if there are any bumps in her ponytail.

Her bow fell out during a game, but she didn't notice until one of her teammates picked it up off the field and returned it to her.

She is a girl, but it's sometimes impossible not to feel the effects of being around 65 boys.

She comes home smelling like sweat, but not her own. It's a deep and distinct scent, familiar to anyone who has ever been in a boys locker room, offensive enough that her mom tells her to take a shower when she comes home.

"Their smell gets on me and it smells so bad," Savannah said.

'SHE'S TOUGH, SHE REALLY IS'

This season, Savannah has made 19 of her 22 point-after attempts and two of her four attempted field goals, her longest a 38-yard field goal in the the third quarter of Hilton Head's 48-20 win over Battery Creek.

"She's tough, she really is. And she works her tail off," Payne said. "On top of everything else, she's really good."

In her private locker room, she can hear the boys being rowdy, and is glad she is away from it to focus, which is key to being a kicker.

"Kicking is pretty detail oriented," said Kevin Osterstock, the team's kicking coach. "You do the same thing every single time."

Savannah is not a football savant. She's always been a fan of the game, but her dad recently corrected her when she called an extra point a field goal. But this might just be to her advantage.

"The less you have in your brain about this job, the better," Travis said. "Because you can overthink it big time."

Savannah is supposed to keep her eye on the ball, and her head down until she's made contact.

She didn't do that for her first kick during a game, a point-after touchdown in the first quarter of the Seahawks season opener.

"I picked my head up and saw this huge guy running at me, so it kind of freaked me out a bit," Savannah said.

Travis Reier knew his daughter was fine, that it wasn't a hard hit. Besides, she'd been knocked down before in soccer and basketball.

And that's what worried him.

He knew his daughter -- the point guard who would step in front of a player going full speed to take an offensive charge, who played the rest of a basketball game after getting knocked down and later discovering she had a concussion -- would react.

"She is, at heart, a competitive athlete, male or female," Travis said.

"That team, though, did not let it pass without some sort of reaction. Which as a father and as a coach, you appreciate," he said. "It showed what these guys think of her."

THE LITTLE SISTER

Savannah turned 16 on a Sunday when she had football practice. She brought cupcakes for the team, and back in the locker room the boys had presents for her -- a card they each signed with their name and jersey number, an extra large bottle of cool blue Gatorade, and two mini bottles of Bath and Body Works lotion in Sweet Pea and Midnight Magic. Junior wide receiver James Wiggins bought Savannah a separate birthday card, though, because he thought the deal was everyone on the team was getting her cards.

She is the team's collective little sister, and they realize the courage it takes for her to be on the team.

"You've got to respect that, that she comes out here," Rinehart said. "Not many girls would do that, come out and say 'I'm going to be on the football team,' put in the time and actually follow through with it."

"She's stepped up. We've got to let her know we've got her back."

For field goals and point-after touchdowns, sophomore center Skyler Korinek's job is to snap and senior quarterback Ben Oliff's job is to hold.

"You usually don't get the snapper and holder talked about a lot," Payne said.

Except when they are snapping and holding for Savannah.

"I think it's something that drives them to be even better," Payne said.

Zach and Logan Ballard, Hilton Head linemen and brothers, helped her up. Back on the sideline she was first met with the frustration of Coach Osterstock for the referees not calling a penalty on the opposing team for unnecessary roughness. He turned her around to show the referee the dirt on her back from being pushed to the ground.

Many of the Hilton Head fans grew angry, including Savannah's grandmother, who was in the stands. Savannah was also met with concern from her teammates.

"Every single kid on the team asked me if I was OK," she said.

As the emotions settled, she looked to Payne who let out a laugh, which made her laugh in return.

"He knew I was OK," Savannah said. "He was lightening the mood."

Savannah wasn't treated like a boy who had been hit. The team wouldn't have asked, not as many times, not with as much concern, were she a boy.

"If it's a girl, we're more sensitive because one hit could rough her up for the rest of the time," Rinehart said.

They had to let her know she's protected, that they were doing their job so she could do hers.

'WE'RE REAL FORTUNATE TO HAVE HER'

"It was a little bit weird at first, but now I'm just like another kid on the team," Savannah said.

The coaching staff and players went out of their way to make Savannah comfortable.

"Honestly, I can say there was never any discussion about it," Payne said. "She showed up, started kicking, and they realized she's really going to be able to help us out.""We don't look at it like we have 65 guys and a girl. We have 66 players and we're real fortunate to have her."

In the community, Osterstock sees the new type of interest Savannah has generated.

"There are women who have said they noticed we have a female kicker, and they come out to see her," he said.

For the first time, people know Savannah's name when she doesn't know theirs.

At the pep rally a few weeks ago, little girls came up to Savannah, saying they want to play football too. After Hilton Head's first home game this season, a mother approached Savannah and told her that her daughter only pays attention to the game when she hears the kicker is coming onto the field.

Savannah's younger sister, Tatum, has her sixth-grade classmates asking about her sister. Tatum has gone out to kick with Savannah and is thinking of playing football next year when she's in middle school.

Savannah is a girl, an athlete and a football player, none of which are mutually exclusive.

"She's family. She's part of the team. She's our kicker," Korinek said.

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

RELATED CONTENT Hilton Head High School sports website

"Video: Another big game by Lewis leads Hilton Head High to 3-0 start"

"Video: Hilton Head High PK Savannah Reier"

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