Simon Fraser freshman kicker Kristie Elliott has enjoyed an historical fall camp with the NCAA Div. 2 Clan football team. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Football

“Do you believe in Kristie Elliott?” From out of nowhere, SFU’s new kicker has become the Clan’s first female football player

BURNABY — The second day of fall football camp was coming to an end last Thursday on Simon Fraser University’s Terry Fox Field when Clan head coach Thomas Ford posed an inspiring question to his team.

“Do you believe in Kristie Elliott?” the effusive Ford asked his charges, all of whom were staring at the possibility of running three or possibly more field-length gassers to end a long day atop Burnaby Mountain.

More precisely, did they believe that their walk-on freshman kicker had the right stuff to kick a 30-yard field goal?

Remember, we’re talking about a complete football neophyte here, and one who had inauspiciously begun her first practice by putting her shoulder pads on backwards.

“We were doing some conditioning to end practice the other day and I am a guy that likes to make some deals,” remembered Ford earlier this week. “So I said ‘OK, double or nothing. You guys can run three (gassers) and just walk away, or go with Kristie. If she makes it, then you don’t have to do any.’”

Of course if she missed, they would have do six gassers.

Yet Elliott, as you might have guessed, didn’t let the Hollywood moment slip through her grasp.

Instead, with the entire team, coaches and support staff glued to her every move, she stepped up and drilled it through the uprights.

Welcome to the weird and magical world of Kristie Elliott, a place we’ve very quickly discovered, where possibility knows no ceiling.

Ask anyone who has seen her kick a football with virtually no prior experience, and you get an idea why they were all willing to bet on their new teammate.

In just 18 days, the Clan will open its 2019 season on the road against NCAA Div. 1 Portland State, and if she hears her number called, Elliott would become the first female to ever see the field for the SFU football team.

“She’s got a leg on her,” says SFU’s probable Week 1 starting quarterback Justin Seiber. “She’s making kicks. We watch her do it after practice, and now we’re looking forward to see her do it on Saturdays.”

SFU head coach Thomas Ford has appreciated the consistency and accuracy of rookie placekicker Kristie Elliott over the first two weeks of fall camp. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

THE KICK HEARD ‘ROUND CAMPUS

“It all started with a bet,” laughs Krisite Elliott.

“Back last Halloween, I bet a (Simon Fraser football) player that I could kick a 40-yard field goal,” continues the 2018 graduate of North Vancouver’s Windsor Secondary, who spent her first season atop Burnaby Mountain as a redshirt freshman hurdler on the track team.

“I wasn’t even sure I could actually do it,” continues the 19-year-old Elliott, who had also played 12 years of house-level soccer on the North Shore “for fun.”

Back in October, that bet was more about friendly banter.

Yet the more Elliott thought it through, the more she realized she actually wanted to give it a try.

“So in April, around exam time, I decided I would.”

North Vancouver-Windsor grad Kristie Elliott, also a hurdler on the Clan track team, shows her footwork during football camp drills Tuesday atop Burnaby Mountain. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Seriously. If you’d have seen her walk onto the field that day, wearing her skater shoes, you might have predicted a scene straight out of Peanuts, with Lucy pulling the ball out at the last second from Charlie Brown.

“But I wanted my money,” Elliott laughs. “So after track practice, I went out there and I kicked it. I was wearing my Vans. It was super casual. But I made it, and I freaked out.”

Video footage began to make the rounds and it wasn’t long before Ford was able to see it for himself.

“The guys on the team were all telling me that I should come out and play, but I didn’t know anything about football” continues Elliott, who is not exactly a shy person but still couldn’t work up the nerve to get in touch with Ford.

“I was too nervous to contact coach Ford,” Elliott says. “So I got one of the girls on the basketball team (her friend Sophie Klassen) to send an e-mail to him. Within 20 minutes coach Ford responded.”

After a sit-down meeting, Ford invited her to take part in fall camp.

SFU kickers Kristie Elliott and David Eisenkraft take a breather from fall camp earlier this week. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

KUDOS FROM THE COACH

Due to the construction of its new stadium, the Clan football team will play all of its home games this season off campus at nearby Swangard Stadium.

Practice sessions, however, will continue to be held atop Burnaby Mountain, and about an hour into this past Tuesday’s session on Terry Fox Field, Elliott and fellow freshman David Eisenkraft had broken out into a kicking session.

Elliott put together an impressive streak of made field goals with carbon-copy form, and her natural ability is something that has not escaped the attention of the coaching staff.

“Honestly, she’s been pretty good so far,” head coach Ford says. “I’m not sure her leg is strong enough to be a kick-off specialist for us right now, but in terms of short field goals and extra points, she’s very accurate. She has great timing and it’s been cool to see her grow and develop over course of summer and into fall camp.”

Ford said that Elliott is sitting as the team’s No. 2 placekicker behind Eisenkraft, a top recruit from Everett, Wash., before adding “Kristie is a first-year player but she has already put herself in some pressure-packed situations and done well. I think she is definitely a player that can help us, so her future is bright if she wants to keep on kicking.”

Sophomore punter/kicker Kees Metselaar, and incoming freshman wide receiver Sam Davenport also bring their substantial talents to the roster in that same area of the special teams.

Simon Fraser’s walk-on freshman kicker Kristie Elliott had never even worn a football helmet until earlier this month. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

WHAT ACCEPTANCE MEANS

Elliott admits that breaking the news about the fact that she was going to fall camp with the football team to both Tom Dickson, her sprint/hurdles coach at SFU, and to her dad, prompted some head-scratching reactions.

“My dad said to me ‘Kristie, are they actually serious about you?’ And I said ‘I don’t know, but I am going to go out,’” she says, adding that her plan is to both play football and run track for the Clan.

Elliott sends heartfelt kudos to former Handsworth Secondary Royals head football coach Richard White, whom she reached out to for some tips, training and advice after she accepted Ford’s invitation to fall camp.

“I’m still a little in shock about it, but these guys don’t intimidate me at all,” smiles Elliott of her new teammates. “At first I was a little scared and there is that stigma that football guys are all so scary. But they are all so nice. These guys are all like teddy bears, half of them, and I am an outgoing person so it’s nothing I am afraid of.”

Ford is the first to admit that the hurdler-to-football kicker model doesn’t have a whole lot of tradition to recommend it.

Yet he does see the transfer from one sport to the other.

“When you think about what she has to do (as a hurdler), it kind of translates to kicking,” Ford begins. “You’ve got to do a lot of training and you don’t get many live reps, and when you do, it’s a pretty high-pressure situation to perform in that one rep. I think mentally, that experience will help her.”

Simon Fraser head coach Thomas Ford has watched rookie Kristie Elliott find her comfort level as a freshman kicker with the Clan. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca)

For Elliott, the past few weeks have been a blur.

Yet nothing to her has been more meaningful than the level of acceptance demonstrated towards her by her new teammates after she booted her walk-off field goal to end practice.

“The most I’ve ever kicked in front of was like 20 people, and here, there’s over 100 people,” she begins. “I am standing there, shaking and shivering and freaking out because I have no idea what I am doing. Plus I have my pads and my helmet on, and I’d never kicked like that before.

“Then coach says it’s double or nothing so it’s double the pressure,” she says with added animation. “I felt that coming in I had a lot to prove. First of all, I’m female. And second, no one has seen me kick before. This was the moment of truth. So then I nailed it, and I have to say it was a beautiful kick.”

What followed was special.

“All of these guys are freaking out,” Elliott says. “I am in the middle of this huddle and they are smashing into me, picking me up, chanting my name. I’ve had so much more confidence after that.”

So welcome to the ongoing story that no one saw coming.

Welcome to the story that, more than anything else, is about infinite possibility and the underdog in all of us.

When coach Thomas Ford asked his team “Do you believe in Kristie Elliott?” he was just as much asking the rest of his players how much they all believed in themselves.

And what better question can any team ask itself at the dawn of a new season?

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