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Esko's Donahue fights the 100-yard war

Maggie Donahue of Esko plays for the semi-pro Minnesota Vixen of the Women’s Football Alliance. Contributed Photo1 / 4
Maggie Donahue joined the Minnesota National Guard in 2006 while still in high school. She was deployed to Iraq in 2009 and is currently a Sergeant. Contributed Photo;'2 / 4
Maggie Donahue poses for her senior prom in 2007. Contributed Photo3 / 4
Esko’s Maggie Donahue plays for the semi-pro Minnesota Vixen of the Women’s Football Alliance. Contributed Photo 4 / 4

Esko's Maggie Donahue has already seen quite a bit in her life.

In high school, she joined the National Guard and after graduating from Esko High School in 2007, she served in Iraq.

Now she can also say she's played football. Donahue played for the semi-pro Minnesota Vixen of the Women's Football Alliance this past season, helping her team to a 7-3 record and a spot in the second round of the league playoffs.

"When I tell people I play football they assume it's the LFL (Lingerie Football League)," Donahue said. "Nothing could be further from that. We play in pads, we hit and we tackle."

The WFA has 65 teams nationwide, gathered into three tiers based on how many players are on the roster. The Vixen boast 50 players, so they're in the Midwest Region's First Tier.

Playing in a division with the Dallas Elite, Kansas City Titans and Arlington

Impact, Donahue's Vixen did fairly well, winning their first three games, including one by forfeit, before losing to the Chicago Force.

"We played home and home games against some teams but others folded," Donahue said. "Kansas City came here, but the other Minnesota team (the Machine) folded so we only played them once."

The Vixen dismantled the Machine, if you will, 62-2 on April 8.

The Vixen defeated the Titans three times, including in the playoffs, by a combined 135-20. They won a playoff game 40-6 on June 10 at their home field in Cottage Grove, Minn.

That set up a playoff game against the Elite in Plano, Texas. Unfortunately, eight players — including Donahue and a coach — saw their flight south cancelled at the last minute. So they rented two cars, drove to Texas overnight, and then saw their team lose 53-0 to the division's top seed.

"That was really hard," Donahue said. "Right as our bags went down the belt, they canceled the flight. That was at 8 p.m. Friday so we got into our rental cars and drove all night. We got there in time for morning walkthroughs."

Donahue found out about the team through Facebook and went to tryouts with her roommate in October.

"They put you through a combine-type process," she said. "You do a 40-yard dash, bench press, leg press, to see the physical strength you have."

Obviously, Donahue made the team and then was placed in a position group by the coaches.

"In the beginning of camp, everyone plays every position so the coaches learn what they have to work with," she said. "Eventually I ended up as a running back and defensive back." Donahue saw most of her action on special teams.

Donahue played hockey, ran cross country and played softball during her prep career but lists football as her favorite.

"I do think it's the ultimate team game," she said. "I think for that reason it's my favorite and this season was one of the best experiences of my life."

For now, Donahue and her teammates are in off-season conditioning.

"I'll be lifting weights and doing what I need to do to make the team next season," she said. "The women on this team came up with a slogan, 'one team, one family,' and that's pretty much how it is."

The team is coached by Brandon Pelinka of Burnsville and reached the national championship game in 2016.

"Our coaches are fantastic," Donahue said. "They have full-time jobs; the owners have full-time jobs and other obligations. They put in so much time to help us be successful."

Donahue's football dream is lifelong.

"I grew up in a family that loved football, I played touch football with my cousins all the time," she said. "It has always been a part of my life. This opportunity presented itself and I honestly had no expectations going into it."

She even sees herself staying in the game if the opportunity arises. Two former

WFA players have landed internships with NFL teams.

"I always thought it would be fun to be on the sideline in the NFL," she said. "But (former player) Katie Sowers is with the 49ers this year and was with the Falcons last year. For now it's a way to stay in shape and meet some awesome ladies who I now consider my family. But if I had the opportunity (to get into the NFL), I'd jump at it."

"I would tell a person my age or younger or a woman who wants to play to just go for it," Donahue added. "The WFA is growing but a lot of people I talk to have no idea it's even around."

With 65 teams, awareness can't help but grow, and Donahue is doing her part to help.

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