The single French braid pops out the back and bottom of the Out-of-Door Academy football helmet.
It’s the lone hint that the player it belongs to is a female.
But, really, Christina Lutton is just a football player.
“Someone else isn’t going to treat me any differently, and I don’t want them to,” said Lutton, who plays wide receiver, defensive back and kicker.
Growing up outside Cleveland, Ohio, Lutton gained an interest in football watching her brother, Brian, play. But playing the sport in the Midwest wasn’t an option, because Lutton is also a skillful soccer player.
Soccer and football occur in the fall season in Ohio, plus Lutton went to an all-girls school.
So when her mother got a job that relocated the family to the area on Aug. 1, Lutton suddenly had an open season in the fall. Soccer is played in the winter in Florida.
An email to ODA head coach Ken Sommers explaining Lutton’s interest in joining the team. So the junior arrived.
“I wasn’t really sure, it’s uncharted territory for us and for our team,” Sommers said.
Any skepticism went out the door immediately when the Thunder began contact drills during fall camp.
“She was out playing slot and caught kind of a bubble screen and was tackled by two guys, no drama,” Sommers said. “Back to the huddle and moved on. It’s to the point where we don’t think about it anymore.”
When Lutton joined ODA’s football program, she also became a history-maker for the private school. Lutton is the first female football player to suit up for the Thunder’s varsity team. They’ve had female players at the middle school level, and the area has seen female athletes play football at other schools.
“I think everyone not on the team is really excited for me,” Lutton said. “And at the games, I have my own little cheering section so I think that’s really cute.”
While football is more physical than soccer, Lutton’s role as a center back on the pitch is one that she said she’s aggressive with. And that can help with the transition to football, which also tests the mental aspect of learning the playbook.
Last week’s regular season opener against Zephyrhills Christian, Lutton didn’t get into the game. Sommers said he’s waiting for the right time to get her in.
“She’s new to the game of football, so I think our jobs as coaches is to put people in situations where they can succeed and where they’re not going to get hurt,” Sommers said. “So I think when we’re facing a team that’s a good opportunity for her to get her feet wet, absolutely. And I just think we had a really big, physical opponent and we had a lot of players that didn’t play as a result of that.”
Quarterback Gus Mahler and linebacker Ethan Marino have helped Lutton ease into varsity football, too.
Lutton said that both Mahler and Marino are supportive and always tell her what to do if she does something wrong on plays in practice.
“Being an ODA football player, you help everybody out,” Marino said.
And when Mahler throws the ball Lutton’s way in practice, he’s seen how good her hands are.
“It’s impressive,” Mahler said. “I wasn’t really surprised, because I have a sister that’s a really good athlete. ... I’ve been tossing the ball around for years, so it’s not anything new. I don’t know if (Christina) is middle of the road ... or a little above, but she definitely impressed a lot of the guys. And she has some pretty decent hands.”
It’s still a to-be-determined process for when Lutton will get her chance to play in a varsity game this fall, but she’s ready.
“I’ve never really gotten nerves before a soccer game, and so I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Lutton said. “I’m sure it will, but I think sports in general, I just step into it and it just kind of happens.”
Who: St. Petersburg Keswick at Out-of-Door Academy
When: Friday, 7 p.m.