Athletes betting on sports is normally a no-no, but we’ll let it slide in this instance as it leads to a truly remarkable and unique story on the football field from a very unlikely source.
Back in 2019, North Vancouver native Kristie Elliott was a first-year student on the track and field team at Simon Fraser University. She wasn’t a football player. She’d never kicked a football. She hadn’t even ever watched an entire football game in her life.
So how did she get to the point where, last weekend, she kicked a pair of extra points for SFU in a real game against NCAA Div. III team Linfield University, becoming the first female player in the history of Canadian college football to both play in and score points in a game?
It all started with a bet.
“I made a bet with a football player that I could kick a 40-yard field goal,” Elliott told the North Shore News. “I was just doing it because I wanted to talk to the football guys. It was just out of nowhere.”
She’d never kicked a football before, but she knew she had a decent leg. Elliott played soccer in North Vancouver for 12 years, earning the nickname “Thumper” because of her strong kicks.
“I played centre back, I took all the kicks and all the corner kicks,” she said. “I just got really good at it and had a powerful leg.”
So one day after track practice she went out onto a football field at SFU, wearing Vans skateboard shoes, lined up a 40-yard field goal and absolutely drilled it.
“I was pretty stoked,” she said, adding that her first reaction was to make sure the kick was caught on video so she could send it to her football friend and collect on her bet.
“There was 40 bucks on the line,” she said.
That football player lost $40, but in the end started a process that helped his team gain a new kicker. He told Elliott she should try out for the team.
“I was like, ‘ha ha, that’s funny.’ I don’t know anything about football,’” Elliott recalled.
But the seed was planted, and the video eventually found its way to the desk of SFU head coach Thomas Ford. Before long, he and Elliott were sitting across from each other in his office, talking about the possibility of her trying out. Elliott was skeptically intrigued.
“I was like, I might as well give it a shot,” she said. “If it goes bad, then at least I can say I tried.”
Before training camp, she spent time with family friend Richard White, a former SFU player and high school coach on the North Shore, who gave her some basic training in the kicking game. In August 2019 she showed up for SFU training camp, and aside from a bit of a wardrobe malfunction – she put her shoulder pads on backwards at her first practice – it went OK. Better than OK, actually – once she started hitting kicks, it was obvious there might be more to it all than a one-off experiment spurred by a silly bet.
“It went really well,” said Elliott. “It was like, OK, this is cool. I should just give it a shot. So I decided to stick with it for the season and see if I enjoyed it.”
She was on the team for the 2019 season but didn’t dress for a single game, a setup that suited her just fine as she adjusted to life on a football team, she said. She was hooked, though, and in December 2019 she quit the SFU track team to focus solely on football. The 2020 season was wiped out by COVID, of course, but Elliott stuck with the program and earned a spot as the team’s placekicker for the 2021 season.
Though some have questioned her presence on the team as a gimmick or publicity stunt, it’s clear to Elliott that is not the case, she said, and in fact she has felt nothing but encouragement from those inside the program.
“I’ve never had more support in my life than these men and coaches,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
With that support lifting her up, Elliott finally got a chance to suit up for a real game – her first-ever football game – last week against Linfield in McMinnville, Ore.
Standing on the sidelines as the game began, the nerves started to kick in, and they reached a peak when she was called into action for her first kick – a 40-yard field goal attempt.
“I was hoping to get a nice PAT [point after touchdown] to start off with, just to kind of ease my way into it, but nope, we went on a 40 yarder,” she said. “I felt like I had a lot of pressure on me just because it was my first game, it was my first kick. And I felt like I had to prove myself that I could do this, and I want to do this. So it was pretty terrifying.”
And the first kick was … a miss.
“I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t even remember what happened.”
After the kick, Elliott beat herself up a bit on the sidelines.
“I was very upset at myself, but I was like ‘OK, I know what it feels like, I can't let this one get to me. I need to have a one-rep memory, I'm gonna go in again, and I know that I can do this.’”
The next kick was a PAT. She nailed it.
“I was freaking out,” she said. “It was finally a big, big relief. And then I started crying on the sidelines because I was so happy. I finally did it. Like all this hard work paid off. It just felt nice to actually get in and score.”
Coach Jimmy Dugan in the film A League Of Their Own famously said “there’s no crying in baseball,” but that rule certainly doesn’t cross over to the football field, at least when Elliott is playing.
“I don’t care,” she said, laughing again. “I cry a lot at football. It doesn’t matter.”
With that, Elliott became the first female ever to score for a Canadian college or university football team. SFU lost the game 56-20, but Elliott was on the board, finishing the day with two converts. Some may still see this as a gimmick, said Elliott, but that’s none of her concern.
“I really don’t care about that,” she said. “Yeah, this past weekend I made history, but for me I’m just going out there doing something that I love doing, wanting to help my team, be an asset and get some points on the board for us. That’s why I’m out here playing football – because I love it. Not for anything other than that, and I hope that people see that I am still around working my butt off every day. I want to be the best.”
What started out as a bet has turned into a passion for Elliott, and she’s thrilled to say now that she’s heard from other young female athletes who are watching her career unfold at SFU.
“My phone was blowing up after the game,” she said. “I’m not used to publicity but I’m trying to go out there and do interviews to show other younger female athletes that your possibilities in life are endless. I encourage everyone to go out there and try different things. Looking back three years ago, I never thought in a million years I’d be playing football.”
She is playing football, at a high level, even if she’s still not exactly sure which way to put her shoulder pads on.
“You can’t tell what’s the front and what’s the back!” she said with a laugh, adding that she would encourage all female athletes to give football a try, or whatever piques their interest, even if it seems unattainable. “Two years ago I was crying at my first practice because I was so nervous, and now I’m out here living my best life, playing football. It’s cool to see what can happen.”
Simon Fraser will play their first home game of the season – and the first-ever game at the new $20-million SFU Stadium at Terry Fox Field atop Burnaby Mountain – Saturday, Sept. 18, when they’ll host Central Washington University in a GNAC game. Kickoff is 6 p.m.