ML-WR football eighth-grade girl isn’t afraid of the boysEach fall afternoon, lacing up her Nike cleats, positioning her blonde hair underneath her helmet and popping in her red rubber mouth guard, Mackenzi Louzek gets ready for an experience most eighth-grade girls won’t share: to play tackle football with the boys.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
WILLOW RIVER – Each fall afternoon, lacing up her Nike cleats, positioning her blonde hair underneath her helmet and popping in her red rubber mouth guard, Mackenzi Louzek gets ready for an experience most eighth-grade girls won’t share: to play tackle football with the boys.
The 14-year-old serves as the Moose Lake-Willow River starting quarterback and free safety on the eighth-grade team this year. She’s one of the squad’s captains and, some say, one of their toughest players.
“I just like football a lot,” said the 5-foot-3, 110-pound Louzek who lives in Sturgeon Lake and attends Willow River School. “I always knew that I was going to play. I grew up around it.”
Mackenzi’s father, Dave, is in his 13th season as the Rebels’ varsity coach, while her mother, Kristin, played flag football in the army. Her younger brother, Dilon, also plays as a sixth-grader in the Rebels’ youth program.
She’s been around football so much, she can’t exactly recall when it all began.
“When I was really little,” she said, chuckling, “I remember I’d come with my dad and watch games but, like every other kid, I’d go play football in the corner with all of the other boys.”
And so a “career” began.
When she was old enough, Mackenzi joined flag football, and then moved to the Cloquet tackle league when she was in sixth grade. It was the first day of tackle practice when her coaches put her at quarterback.
“It caught me completely by surprise,” said Dave Louzek. “We played catch a lot, so I figured she’d be a receiver or something like that. But she really naturally took to the
Following a year in Cloquet, Mackenzi began playing for Chris Gamst in ML-WR. The fourth-year coach said she’s been quite an asset.
“We want her on the field all of the time,” he said. “She’s a good leader. We’re not letting her play just because her dad is the varsity coach, but because she’s a very good athlete.”
Gamst explained that Mackenzi’s ability to run the offense under center and her ability to tackle in the open field are as good as anyone.
“She decides our snap count, can switch plays and just go on her own,” he said. “She runs a great offense and is in on almost every tackle.”
It’s the getting tackled part that makes Kristin Louzek – like any mother of a daughter – nervous from time to time.
“I get nervous for her, but not any more than any of the other boys,” she said. “I’m more concerned about letting her do what she wants to do.”
For Mackenzi, what she wants to do is go out and knock some boys around.
“I’m not scared to hit or tackle,” Mackenzi said. “I mean, the boys might be bigger than me, but if I wrap around their legs and I hit them hard, I know I can get them down.”
Just ask Hermantown eighth-grader Thomas Madison.
“She like twisted my leg; it was a great form tackle,” said the Hawks’ running back who was wrapped up by Mackenzi during the second quarter of their game Monday in Willow River. “It was insane.”
Although Hermantown trounced winless ML-WR 38-6 Monday, Mackenzi was the talk of the Hawks’ sideline, according to Madison.
“It was surprising to see, she kind of changed the game,” Madison said. “I heard some of our guys over there saying she’s one of the toughest girls they’ve ever seen.”
Mackenzi finished Monday’s game rushing only twice and passing only twice, as she picked up a first down on a sneak and hooked up on a 15-yard completion, both in the first half.
It was her conducting a seven-minute, 10-play, 49-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, however, that was most impressive.
With her own fan section of friends cheering for her, Mackenzi also posted half a dozen tackles, including a pair of solos that saved touchdowns in the secondary. All in all, Mackenzi played in 74 of the game’s 79 plays, only confirming Gamst’s confidence in his young leader.
“She’s a top-three player on our team, so when she’s out, it just throws us all off,” said Gamst, who’s coached two girls in his career. “From the start, she’s been very valuable to us.”
For Mackenzi, a three-sport athlete who also plays hockey and runs track and field, her teammates make playing the sport even easier.
“I could have played volleyball or ran cross country, but football was just my thing,” she said. “I like hanging out with the guys. They don’t treat me like a girl, but as one of the team. I feel very accepted.”
Since Dave is coaching his own team on most of Mackenzi’s game days, Kristin tapes the games.
“My wife videotapes, then I’ll sit down and edit things, make a DVD and lots of times she’ll (Mackenzi) sit down with me and we’ll watch it together,” Dave said. “It’s my hope that she does continue to play. I’d love to coach her someday. But it’s completely up to her.”
Mackenzi thinks she’ll stick with it.
“All of the guys always ask me if I’m going to keep playing and I tell them that I’m going to try,” Mackenzi said. “I’m going to try as long as I can.”
Having worked out in the weight room with the varsity and already knowing the Rebels’ playbook like the back of her hand, who knows what the future may bring for the longtime run-first, pass-second ML-WR dynasty.
“She always threw the ball around with the varsity guys when she was younger,” Dave said. “In our offense, all you have to do is pitch the ball and run the huddle.”
We already know she can do that.
“She does it well,” added Kristin. “When I played, I just played wherever they put me.”
But even if Mackenzi hangs it up, one thing will remain constant.
“We’re a football family,” Kristin said.
“We might stay up late and watch the game together,” Mackenzi said, “But I like it. It’s very fun.”