“The hardest thing about being the only girl is never knowing if your team will accept you or treat you like an outcast, and having the other team treat you like a girl when you want to be treated like one of the guys. . . . And, having to change in a girls’ bathroom instead of in a locker room.”– Taft sophomore lineman Caytlyn Whitlow
Taft lineman goes toe-to-toe with football’s big boys
With Its playoff-worthy football season deemed over by its failure to attain the OSAA”s only at-large berth into the Class 3A State tournament, Taft High sophomore lineman Caytlyn Whitow can look back with the understanding it was a season of something truly noteworthy in her life.
“I made the team by going to a competition just for the hell of it to see how it was and from there on I’ve been hooked on football,” said Whitlow, who celebrated her 16th birthday on Sunday.
“I don’t know much about her off the field,” her coach, Jake Tolan, said, “but I do know it would have been very easy for her not to continue to play. That alone says a lot about her.”
Born in Tualatin, Whitlow is a foster child who resides in Depoe Bay with her grandparents, Rick and Lisa Hall. She has two younger sisters, Kaylee, 8, and Emma. 6.
“I play football because I like challenges,” she said. “I love the rush of playing and making challenges for both my team and other teams.”
Whether in the game as a JV player or offering support from the varsity sidelines, Whitlow’s impact is apparent in practice in a big way every day.
“You have to be loud and call out the plays and be in the game when on the sidelines,” she said. “When you’re in the game as a lineman, you only have one job — make a hole and get to the ball.”
That doesn’t mean being a commodity as a female football player is easy.
“The hardest thing about being the only girl is never knowing if your team will accept you or treat you like an outcast and having the other team treat you like a girl when you want to be treated like one of the guys,” she said. . . . “And, having to change in a girls’ bathroom instead of in a locker room.”
“Some of the older guys treat me as an equal, but others I feel don’t like my being there,” she said. “I feel respected sometimes, not all the time like I wish to.”
Whitlow is among a stable of players Tolan and the Taft High staff hope to build upon in establishing the program for the future. The Tigers move back to Class 4A after next season after four years in Class 3A and will return just four or five seniors after graduating at least 10 each of the past two years. Taft has a bulk of returning freshmen and sophomores — Whitlow among them – but a senior class half the size.
“Hopefully, we’ll develop a stronger program in terms of numbers and expectations,” Tolan said.
While the junior varsity has seen very limited varsity action this season, players such as the 5-foot, 3-inch, 247-pound Whitlow are attractive because they help coaching staffs work daily in-season toward the impossible task of simulating what the team will be up against on Fridays. Scout team members are few in numbers and barely breaking into their teens.
“We do the best we can,” Tolan said, “but it’s impossible to duplicate speed and physicality with the young kids. They’re trying to give us the best look we can get. Fortunately, she’s done a good job of stepping in there and helping our linemen out for Fridays.”
Tolan said he doesn’t know a lot about the player except for what he has seen on the field.
“I know we haven’t treated her any differently than what we expect from the boys in all of the drills that we run,” he said. “We expect her to be able to run those drills, and she never wavered in that or she never asked us for anything. There hasn’t been anything special granted to her. She’s been a solid member of our team.”
Tolan said he was caught by her seemingly deep-rooted interest in the game.
“I don’t know if she has ever played football before or is a student of the game, but she’s always asking me questions, clarifying things about defense or offense, or, ‘can I do this?’ or, ‘can I do that,” To be honest, I hope she continues to play again next year because I want players who work hard and are a positive contributor to our team.”
If Whitlow has her way, she’d continue to play on in college. An avid reader and writer. she hopes to attend the University of Oregon and major in English literature..
“I would consider myself a good student, but like most, I have made mistakes before — some I regret more than others,” she said.
It hasn’t been easy for the red-headed teen, who has no family in the traditional sense. She has had to move at least 10 times in her life, depriving her of having good educational opportunities, “like I do now.”
“My goal is to show not only other young girls with high hopes like myself that if you put your mind to it, and work hard on it, you can make it anywhere, including in a man’s sport,” she said.
“I Am Woman”
You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul
— Helen Reddy and Ray Burton