FRANKLIN, Ind. — She’s on the field throwing passes, helping the defensive backs run different routes. She’s carrying around cards, getting the scout offense ready for the defense. On the clipboard, she looks at the script for practice, where she needs to go next.
Hope Nelson is a freshman student football coach for Franklin College. It’s a tremendous feat, a woman helping to lead a team that this season is 5-1 and undefeated in its conference.
But it’s not her dream. Not even close.
Coaching is the backup plan.
She’s in the weight room, squatting 245 pounds, getting her legs stronger — ready to make tackles. She’s running sprints, getting lightning fast — to cover receivers and defend against pass offenses. She’s watching the guys on the field, the cornerbacks in particular.
“When I tell people, it’s always ‘Wow.’ And they’ll ask, ‘What position do you play? Kicker?'” Nelson said. “But that’s not the case. I’m out on the field making tackles. And I want to do that here. I know I can do it.”
Nelson’s goal is to play at Franklin next season as a sophomore. For spring practices, she will suit up with the guys.
She will prepare to make football history, as the first woman in the school’s 184-year existence to play the game.
But that is just the beginning of Nelson’s story of persistence and perseverance.
A lifelong dancer and cheerleader, Nelson is a fighter, a woman who overcomes obstacles every single day.
And she knows what is most daunting, should she take the college football field next year, is a right side hit that comes out of nowhere.
Nelson doesn’t have a chance to see it coming.
She is blind in her right eye.
‘It’s just made me who I am’
The night before, it had seemed like the best solution – at least the only solution for the short term.
Nelson’s babysitter had taken the doorknob off in the bathroom – because her own kids kept trying to lock themselves inside.
The next day, a 3-year-old Nelson was at the house playing hide-and-seek with the babysitter’s daughter.
When she darted into the bathroom, Nelson chased after. As she was just about to catch her, the door slammed shut.
The metal prong exposed by the missing doorknob stabbed Nelson in her right eye.