Sierra Mowrer got the itch when she was five years old.
“I thought it was just going to be a phase at first,” she said. “But then I kept wanting to play. And my parents saw that I was serious about this.”
Mowrer is serious about playing football. And Hempfield’s 15-year-old sophomore is living out her dream, playing pigskin for the Black Knights’ junior varsity team this season.
When it came to her parents, Mowrer said she didn’t have to twist any arms to get their permission to play. Her mom, Rachel, played field hockey for Manheim Central. And her dad, Mitchell, played some Midget football in Central’s program before attending Hempfield.
“When I first starting playing, they might have been a little iffy about it,” Mowrer said. “But now they’re OK. They totally support me.”
Most female players who have suited up for Lancaster-Lebanon League football teams over the years have been placekickers, including Aly Rote, who was a kicker for Hempfield just two years ago.
But not Mowrer. She plays offensive and defensive line, so she’s in the trenches, right smack dab in the middle of all the action at the line of scrimmage.
“Yeah, I get a lot of looks,” said Mowrer, who is listed at 5-foot-2 and 135 pounds. “Sometimes I can tell if someone is looking at me, and trying to figure me out. Other guys are like, OK, she’s a girl, and it doesn’t really matter. So I do get knocked down. But they treat me like anyone else.”
Mowrer was on the field, sporting her No. 62 jersey, in Hempfield’s first three JV games this season. She plays nose guard on defense and guard and center on offense.
“It’s going a lot better than I thought it would,” she said. “I thought for sure that I’d get knocked down a bunch of times. But I’ve gotten a decent amount of playing time, and I feel really good about that.”
Mowrer wears a hand-crafted set of shoulder pads, which include a flack jacket device to support her ribs and back. She also has her own locker room space inside Hempfield’s field house.
Mowrer started playing in the East Petersburg Midget program when she was 10. She played at every level, starting with a year on the C team, then two years with the B team, and finally two years with the A team before moving up to JV this year.
“When she told us that she plays offensive and defensive line, we were a little shocked by that,” Hempfield coach Ron Zeiber said, smiling. “But she does a little bit of everything, and she works so hard. And all the guys seem to get along with her really well. She handles it great. I know she’ll get on their case, just like everyone gets on everyone else’s case. We have a great camaraderie here, and she figured that out right away.”
Coming up through Hempfield’s system, Mowrer played everywhere from defensive end, to offensive line, to linebacker and even quarterback. Although her QB debut for East Pete’s A team didn’t go so well.
“I separated my shoulder on the third play of the game,” said Mowrer, whose older sister Savannah also played Midget football for East Pete before switching over to cheerleading.
“I was throwing a pass,” Mowrer said, “and he came in and hit me and it just popped right out of the socket. That’s was my worst injury. And I was mad about it because it cost me half of the season.”
Fear of injury and going up against bigger boys has not deterred Mowrer in the least.
“I really like to hit,” she said. “That’s my favorite part — when you get to tackle somebody. The size difference is what I’m worried about. But I’m here. And after like four days of camp this summer, and learning how they do things here, that all passed. I knew I’d be fine.”
“Some of the varsity guys are like, well, we don’t want to hit you. But I tell them that the guys I’m going up against in the game want to hit me. So hit me. It’s OK. Our first game this year, I was on the kick return team, and I was nervous because they came at me full speed. And I went to block someone but I missed him. But I didn’t fall. And right then, I knew that I could actually do this.”
Which is why Mowrer isn’t shy about getting her hands dirty, either.
“She’s always in there trying to get as many reps as possible,” said Hempfield junior all-star Aiden Power, who anchors the Knights’ offensive line. “If there is someone standing in the back and not participating during practice, it’s definitely not her.”
Zeiber is happy to have Mowrer on board, and said he’s always looking out for her safety.
“Our biggest concern is putting her in mismatch situations,” the Knights’ skipper said. “We can’t line her up against some of our bigger, stronger guys. She doesn’t seem to mind that, but we’re careful about it.”
“But she can handle all the drills, and she takes hits and she goes after people. When we’re doing the scout-team drills, she jumps in there all the time to go up against our first varsity group. I have no problem with it. If someone wants to come out and be on the team and give it a shot, that’s great. So she’s been a great addition to our team, and she’s added a dynamic to our team.”
As for Mowrer, she’s just happy to be playing. Her goal is to become a full-time starter on Hempfield’s JV squad, and to start a varsity game before her prep playing days are over in Landisville.
“I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be playing,” Mowrer said. “I’m just glad I’m getting the opportunity to play because this is truly what I want to do. Everybody always says that they’re proud of me, but I don’t really see it that way. I see it as this is what I love to do, and this is what I’m going to keep doing.”