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Linebacker by day, coach by night: Royals linebacker Isabelle Hillen loves her football

'It was probably one of the best things that I have done in my life, so far,' said Isabelle Hillen about getting involved with the sport

A female linebacker is giving back in the local football community, on and off the field.

Isabelle Hillen is a Grade 9 student who plays for John F. Ross during the day, but on Tuesday and Thursday nights, she volunteers as a coach for the Guelph Minor Football peewee U12 team. 

“I definitely thought it was going to be more stationary stuff, like putting cones out, or running through plays, and things like that, but it’s actually super fun,” said Hillen about helping coach the team of 20. “I’m super involved with the kids and I get to play the opposing team when we go through drills and the kids are super cool to hang out with."

Hillen explains she began playing football in 2019 after her younger brother joined the Guelph Minor Football program.

It was her brother’s coach who later suggested she volunteer to complete school hours. 

“I was just talking with him after the practice one day and he suggested that I come and try to do it for my volunteer hours, and I just did it," she said.

She adds this is her first time coaching and enjoys seeing the players learn and grow within the sport.

“I’m probably going to do it for the duration of my high school career."

Hillen adds her younger brother is also a part of the team she coaches. However, being an offensive coach and her brother plays a defensive role, she mentions they don’t interact as much. 

“When we do see each other it’s really fun, he’s hilarious and we joke and laugh, but I push him harder and it works out really well,” said Hillen.

As an athlete, Hillen has also played basketball, rugby and field lacrosse, but likes how much discipline is put into football.

“In other sports, the coaches aren’t as hard on us, and it’s easy to slack, and then we don’t really learn as much," said Hillen. “In football, you run the fields and you do things quickly so you get more time in.”

Playing as a linebacker with her high school team, Hillen mentions she was nervous about it at first, but feels more confident following encouragement from her teammates and learning more about her role. Last Friday, John F. Ross faced off against Bishop Macdonell and Hillen said it was exciting to watch and cheer her teammates on.

Despite being one of two girls on the team, Hillen mentions gender wasn't a factor in her decision to try out for football.

“I just went out to enjoy myself, I just feel like a part of the team as another player rather than someone who is representing an entire gender,” she said.

The other female athlete on team is Grade 12 student and defensive back, Alissa Witter.

Witter said she is person who tries to experience new things. Part of her interest in football comes from being inspired in Grade 10 to join the football team after hearing about a previous female athlete who was on the team.

Recognizing how much younger students look up to older ones, Witter hopes to inspire other female athletes like she had been inspired.

“So many girls would do great at football, but the one problem is that they are afraid, they are afraid fo what the guys will think and how the coaches will treat you, and so many things like that, but, I think it's important to get through that and understand that a girl can do anything a guy can do," said Witter.

"If you have drive and a love for football, you'll fit in with the team."

Regretting not joining the team sooner, Witter said she thinks it is amazing to see Hillen join the team in her first year of high school.

"I think it's great, she has the opportunity to do this all throughout high school," said Witter, mentioning she thinks joining in Grade 9 is a best way to learn new skills.

Following this football season, Hillen now plans to continue trying out for her high school football team and stay involved through volunteering with Guelph Minor Football.

“It was probably one of the best things that I have done in my life, so far."