Winter Park’s Erin Flood closes out special senior season of varsity tackle football, weightlifting and flag football

Chris Hays, Orlando Sentinel
·7 min read

Erin Flood knew she would get roughed up a bit playing on the boys football team. She knew she would be going up against players stronger and bigger than her. But she wanted the challenge.

There was just one thing, which she learned quite quickly.

“After her first time on the field I asked her, ‘So, how was it?’” Winter Park offensive line coach Tony Fernandez said. “She said, ‘It was good … but they are so slimy.’”

Welcome to football in Florida’s August heat.

The first time Flood stepped on the field to try out as a sophomore, she had second thoughts.

“On the first day of summer camp, I was absolutely petrified. I looked at my mom and said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore,’” said Flood, now a senior. “My mom said, ‘Listen, just go out there and you do your best. I know that you’re scared, but go do your best and if you love the sport then you love it. If you don’t, it’s OK. We can try something else.’”

Well, she loved it.

Flood is a 5-foot-9, three-sport athlete for Winter Park. She played on the varsity boys football team this past season as a reserve offensive lineman, finished 12th at the state weightlifting championships in February, and will look to help the girls flag football team capture a district title starting Monday.

The boys football coaches welcomed her with open arms, and so did her teammates.

“I didn’t expect the coaches to be so accepting of me,” Flood said. “I was full-on expecting them tell me, ‘No, you can’t come out here.’ And I was OK with that. I would have been like, ‘OK, I get it. That’s how it’s always been.’

“But they said, ‘OK, if you want to do it, we’re not going to treat you any differently. You’re going to go out here and do the same thing everyone else is going to do,’ and that’s what I really wanted.”

Flood grew up playing mostly soccer, but it wasn’t to her liking. So that’s when she turned to boys football.

“I liked the physical contact of the sport … I really liked being aggressive out there,” Flood said. “I liked flag football because I played that my freshman year, so I figured I might as well see if I could play boys football.

“I didn’t want to be known as the girl on the football team. I wanted to be known as a good player on the football team who happened to be a girl.”

It took a little while for her teammates to come around to the idea of having her on the squad, and Flood said they ignored her for a bit.

“They were like, ‘OK, we get it, you’re just probably here to be known as the girl on the football team,’” Flood said, “But after a while, when they saw I was putting in just as much work and sometimes even more … they were like, ‘OK, she’s good. She doesn’t want to be treated differently.

“Halfway through my first year … after I started hitting people, they said, ‘OK, she’s not too bad.’ "

She doesn’t try to sugar-coat her initial foray into boys football. It wasn’t easy. It took time for her to adjust.

“It’s harsh out there,” Flood said. “Both mentally and physically it can be draining at times, but I enjoyed it, no matter how much I didn’t like it at first.”

The moment of acceptance from her teammates came during a practice when she was working a one-on-one drill against another player.

“Me and this kid went at it and something came over me where I just grabbed him by the shoulder pads and I just threw him down,” Flood said. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh. Did that just happen?’ The poor guy, he quit football after that. I never saw him again.’”

Flood’s had her own taste of the ground, as well, during a spring football game her second year on the team.

“I was going up against this junior, and oh my gosh, as my dad would say, ‘He cleaned my clock,’” Flood said.

She even suffered from a bad concussion during her junior year that put her out for 11 weeks, but it wasn’t enough to deter her desire to play nor quell her passion for the game.

“I knew the chances I could get hurt again, but I knew that from the beginning,” Flood said. “But I thought, ‘Should I go back and maybe get hurt again?’ My parents did have a rule that if I got a second concussion, they were going to take me out of football altogether.

“I get that. I want to remember who I am when I get older. But at the time, I was like, ‘I really love this sport. I’ll take the risk.’ Thankfully, I didn’t get hurt.”

She loved her senior season.

“It was awesome. I enjoyed being there with my teammates for the games,” Flood said. “I played varsity and I played in a lot more games than I thought I was going to play. It was nice to be in the games out there with my brothers.”

Boys football assistant coach and girls flag football head coach Johnny Miller said Flood was a great fit on the team, worked hard and never missed a day.

“She wanted to be an offensive lineman and we told her, ‘You’ll be hitting sleds, you’re hitting every day,’ and she came out and didn’t shy away from anything,” Miller said. “She earned everything she got from the get-go.”

That included her coaches’ trust and confidence in her ability.

“I remember Coach Fernandez saying, “I’m not going to put you out there unless I trust you,” Flood said. “He was talking to everybody and he said your brothers have to trust whoever is being put out there … second string, third string, whatever.

“So, he said, ‘If I put you out there, that means I think you are going to get the job done,’ That was a huge confidence booster when he put me out there. It was like, ‘Wow, he put me out there. He trusts me.’ "

Most girls who have played boys football at Central Florida high schools have been kickers. Edgewater currently has junior varsity kicker Bailey Stokes, who is the first girl ever to play on the boys’ team for Edgewater. But there have been others at various schools throughout the area.

“I tried the whole kicker thing for a while, but I didn’t like it,” said Flood, who is center and punter for the girls flag football team and Winter Park’s first girl on the boys’ team. “I switched up to playing what I love, on the line.

“A lot of people think I did it because I was trying to break down a barrier or something. I’m just doing it for me. I wanted to play because I wanted to go out there and be aggressive. I can’t go out and mow somebody down in flag football. If I inspire someone to do what they love, then they should do it. I’m not saying every girl should go join a boys football team. That would be a mess.”

Flood’s tackle football career has now entered its retirement phase, and a special senior year overall is coming to an end. She’s hoping to compete in weightlifting in college.

“Weightlifting is my favorite sport of all of them because it’s not me against another girl. It’s me against the weight,” Flood said.

Her last hurrah in high school competition begins with district flag football championships next week. Winter Park is 10-2 so far this season and will face Edgewater on Monday.

“I think we’re going to do really well,” said Flood, who is a team captain. “We won more games than we ever have in Winter Park girls flag football. The coaches know what we need to do to get things done.

“I think we’re going to do something special.”