- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2018

DERWOOD, Md. — Steve Ferouz recalled how the cheering got started even before his daughter hit the football field.

At Magruder High School’s homecoming football game against Northwood on Sept. 28, a senior cornerback named Abby Ferouz made her team debut, triggering a supportive chorus around Magruder’s home field.

“Everyone in the stands, they were all cheering for me,” the 17-year-old said. “It was such a good feeling.”

“We were out in the stands, and we weren’t even chanting. All of a sudden, the whole student section and then it went around to the whole crowd, they start cheering, ‘Ab-by, Ab-by,’” her father said. “We all got goose bumps. Then, after that, the coach told her to put her gloves on and get in the game. The whole crowd erupted.”

It’s no longer novel to hear about a girl signing up to play football with the boys. The number of high school girls playing traditional 11-player football has risen steadily to 2,237 last year, including 16 in Maryland, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

But those statistics do not make Ferouz’s accomplishments any less meaningful to her parents and her younger sisters — or to students of the Montgomery County school who don’t know the senior personally but stop her in the hallway to share congratulations.

The Colonels’ 2018 season, and Ferouz’s brief football career, conclude Friday night at John F. Kennedy High School. She now has played in three games, becoming the first girl to play football in Magruder history and showing that a girl doing something stereotypically reserved for boys can still inspire a community.

It was a product of months of hard work — and of a dream that goes back even further.

Ferouz has also competed for Magruder in cross-country, track and field and diving, but she dreamed of trying out for football — though her interest in playing can’t be tracked to a favorite team or player.

“It’s not like she would sit down and get involved in an NFL football game or she would know the plays,” said Lori Ferouz, her mother. “I think she really wanted to actually play. She wasn’t into like special players or anything like that. But she loved hanging out with Dad in the backyard and throwing the football around.”

Ferouz and her parents insist that she wasn’t kept away from football because she is a girl, but because football is a “rough” sport for anyone and the risk of injuries such as concussions appears to be greater.

“You don’t want to tell your daughter, ‘No, you can’t do something,’ because we always teach them it doesn’t matter. You can do anything, you can be anything,” Mrs. Ferouz said. “But it’s hard when it’s tackle football.”

Ferouz saw her senior year at Magruder as her last shot. She wasn’t the first girl to approach coach Ray Fowle, in his 10th year at the school and now concluding his fifth season as head coach.

“She told me end of winter, early spring that she wanted to play,” Fowle said. “Other females had told me in the past that they’re interested in playing football, so I’m like, ‘Well, come on out.’ None of them had ever took up on the offer, so I was kind of skeptical the same way with her.”

Junior Jeremiah Baxter, who plays running back, wide receiver and linebacker for the Colonels, agreed.

“I didn’t think she was seriously going to come out here,” he said, “because the previous year, there was a girl who said she was going to come out and play football and she didn’t.”

But Ferouz showed up. Her first day of offseason workouts was focused on weight training.

“I remember being a little overwhelmed,” she said, “because I was the only girl and here I am. I’m pretty much trying to lift weights with all the guys on the football team, and they’ve been doing this for years.”

Fowle ultimately saw cornerback as the best fit for his new player and said she “attacked it” by coming to every workout and film study session.

Baxter said the players were cheering for their female teammate just as much as the crowd when she got into her first game. Ferouz and the boys see one another as family.

“I love hanging out with the guys,” she said. “They’re literally like my family to me now. It’s going to be hard once the season’s over.”

In her second game, against Springbook, she recorded a tackle at the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, saving a touchdown.

“The student section ate it up, our players ate it up, our announcer ate it up,” Fowle said. “I’m sure the Springbook kid wasn’t too happy that we all ate it up, but it comes with the territory.”

It’s little moments like that that can inspire others to give things a try. There are two younger sisters in the Ferouz family, including an 8-year-old named Chloe who her father said is asking to play football, too.

Although Ferouz will graduate this spring, that doesn’t mean Magruder won’t have another girl on the team next year.

“I’ll be in the hallway, and girls will come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, you’re the girl that plays football. That’s so cool. I really wanted to do football, but I wasn’t quite sure if I could,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘You should do it next season. It’s tons of fun.’”

Fowle said Ferouz has “opened some doors.”

“I’ve got two young daughters at home, and they came and saw Abby in the weight room this summer. My kindergartner thought it was the coolest thing ever — that there was a girl working out with daddy’s football team,” he said. “It’s inspiring, and we’ll see what it leads to in the future.”

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