Glenn girl isn’t afraid to fight it out in the trenches

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Westland — Vanessa Romero and Elijah Clark were talking outside Westland John Glenn’s locker room after a recent football practice, joking around and laughing.

Clark is an offensive lineman at John Glenn.

So is Romero.

And it’s no joke.

At 5-foot-4 and 202 pounds, Romero is mixing it up — in the trenches, no less — with the boys.

Just like she has all her life.

While dozens of girls have played varsity football in past years, usually they are kickers. Romero has played for a decade, since she was 7 and wasn’t about to stop playing the game she loves because the boys are physically bigger.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Romero, a junior backup guard who was in for several plays in Week 1 after starting on the freshman and junior varsity teams the past two seasons. “I love competing, going up against different boys who don’t know I’m a girl. When I take my helmet off at the end of the game, they go like, ‘You got hit by a girl,’ since I keep my hair in my helmet during games.

“This is my 10th year of playing so I grew up with half of the boys I’m playing with. They kind of figured I’d keep playing. If I ever need anything, I know they have my back and things like that.”

More than that.

Romero has the respect of her teammates and coaches.

“I’ve known her since I’ve been here, but I really got to know her at the start of this season,” said Clark, a senior right tackle. “I really respect her as a player. She works hard ... she’s tough down in the trenches with us and does what we need her to do.”

Mixing it up

Steve Waller has been a part of the John Glenn program 18 years, the last two as coach.

While trying to rebuild the program — from 1985-2004 the team made 16 state playoff appearances but has won one game in each of the past two seasons — Waller had concerns about a girl playing football.

“It was definitely something you have to think about,” Waller said. “Last year, she was on the JV squad and I’d come to the games and she was waiting in the hallway waiting for the boys to dress before she’d go to the locker room. We’d just wait to make sure she was included in pregame locker room speeches.”

Now, however, Waller is convinced with Romero, and impressed with her work ethic.

“Vanessa is one of the greatest kids you’ll ever meet, even in the classrooms and in the hallways, she’s just first-class, nice, polite, funny, but once you put the pads on it’s all business,” Waller said. “She is not your typical girl football player because she’s not a kicker. She gets down in there and mixes it up with the big guys.

“She’s a junior now so she really hasn’t started. But she does get on the field.”

And, Romero’s goals are the same as her teammates.

“I just want to get better and help my team get better and win more games,” said Romero, as John Glenn prepares to host rival Wayne Memorial tonight.

Following Dad’s footsteps

Romero first fell in love with football because of her father, Tony Romero, who played at Detroit Holy Redeemer in the early 1990s.

“I always looked up to my Dad since he played football when he was younger,” Vanessa Romero said. “We watched games together, he likes Michigan and I like Michigan State. Then, I started playing and loved it.

“It’s just fun hitting other people. Sometimes you get a little nervous when the boys are bigger than you. After the first play I’m fine.”

Sure, Tony Romero is concerned about injuries, especially with the focus on concussions.

Still, he wants his daughter to play the game she loves.

“She’s tough, playing since she was 7,” Tony Romero said of his daughter. “They don’t even know she’s a girl until she takes her helmet off after the game. She’s just started getting into weightlifting now that she’s on varsity. I guess our body type is made for it … we’re big and wide, something we inherited.”

And, Vanessa Rmero enjoys being a member of the team for more than just the competition.

There’s that built-in camaraderie she’s been welcomed into — just like any other football player.

“I get along with them fine,” Romero said. “They’ll pick on me because I’m like their little sister, but I know if I ever need anything, they’ll be there. We will do team bonding, go to movies and go out to eat.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: @DavidGoricki