GREAT FALLS — Take a quick glance at the Great Falls High football practice field and No. 26 might catch your eye.
That jersey belongs to Lexi Vogel, a freshman at GFH and the only girl on the Bison football team, varsity or sub-varsity. It’s a sport she’s loved for years.
"I just grew up around boys all the time. I was always doing everything with them and then football just came into the picture,” Vogel said. “I played seventh and eighth grade at East Middle School and just loved everything about it.”
But Lexi is not a kicker and she’s not a bench warmer. When she straps on the pads, she lines up at middle linebacker or running back where she is a vocal leader. She’s never shied away from contact and is known to lay some highlight-reel hits on defense.
“Everybody thinks that girls can't play and then once they see me they're like, ‘Wow, they actually can play,’” Vogel said. “I’ve proved a lot of people wrong.”
Lexi is expected to play a big role in Saturday’s freshman season opener against Bozeman Gallatin. According to her coaches, her playing time is earned, not given.
“I met her for the first time this summer when we opened up the weight room back in June, and this young girl was showing up every day and working hard,” said Bison varsity head coach Mark Samson. “She just is like, ‘Hey, I may be a female, but I love the sport, and I want to work hard and I want to be a part of it.’ She just wants to play.”
And Lexi’s team has her back.
“All the coaches and players are amazing here,” she said. “They don’t treat me like a girl. They treat me like one of the boys and one of the teammates and they push me to try harder and harder.”
Of course, there will always be those who say there’s no place for girls in football or don’t take her seriously. Vogel hears them but sets out to prove them wrong at every turn.
“The other day during one of our scrimmages, one of the linemen on the other team on the sophomore team was like, ‘Oh, wow, it's a girl,' and started laughing,” she said. “It made me a little bit upset, but I kept it together. And then I just brushed it off.”
The perception that football is only for boys makes her work harder. Lexi hopes that someday girls playing football won’t be looked at as a novelty. Her goal is to contribute to a winning team and continue to pursue her passions, no matter how others react.
“I want to be an example for girls entering a predominantly male sport or activity,” she said. “Just because you might be a little bit different, it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It means that you should try harder to do it. And I want to be one of the examples to show that girls can do anything a male can do.”
The Great Falls High freshman team hosts Bozeman Gallatin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.