ESPN has a lengthy feature on a high school football team in Texas, but Friday Night Lights this isn't. The story is about a team in tiny Harrold, Texas, where the schools are so small they play a six-man version of the game on a shorter field. Players often line up on both offense and defense the entire game. As it turns out, Harrold nearly had to cancel its season when a player left the school just as practice camp was about to start. The coach, with only five players on his squad, walked through the school gym one day and jokingly asked any of the girls on the volleyball team if they wanted to play. Much to his surprise, he got a taker in Olivia Perez, who had only a superficial knowledge of the game. But one of her best friends was on the football team, and she decided to play, for him. He, in turn, wanted to play for his father.
At this point, you might be expecting a Cinderella sports story to unfold, but that's not what this story is about. "The 2016 season wasn't much of a fight," writes Elizabeth Merrill. The team lost one game by 59 points, another by 50. And, no, Olivia didn't miraculously morph into a star player. But she played. The coach protected her as best he could, and "there was sort of an unspoken understanding among the local teams that no one would lay a hard tackle on her," writes Miller. Olivia adds that one opposing coach even warned his players he'd run them if they hit her too hard: "I think that's cool." The story tracks various members of the team, along with their families and their struggles. In short, "it's about friendship, death, and a football season saved by a 5-foot-2, 135-pound girl," writes Miller. Read it in full here. (Read more high school football stories.)