A 9-year-old girl from Sugar Hill is breaking down barriers and becoming a pioneer in the traditionally male-dominated sport of contact football. 

Harper Pulley played her first year of contact football for the Lanier 9/10 U rec league team. Photo by Alicia Payne.

Harper Pulley, a fourth grader at Sugar Hill Elementary, decided at the age of 6 that she wanted to play football. She has been surrounded by the sport for as long as she can remember. 

“It’s my passion,” Harper said. “We are a football loving family. Mom is a huge Cleveland Browns fan and dad is a huge Alabama fan.”

The idea that she could possibly make her dreams of becoming a football player come true clicked for Harper at a Friday night high school game where saw a female kicker playing for one of the teams. That experience fueled Harper’s goal to play football. 

Harper’s parents had her try a year of flag football before committing to the traditional game of contact football. To no one’s surprise, Harper loved it and did well.

Fast forward to a year later and Harper insisted her parents sign her up for the real deal — she joined the Lanier Longhorns’ 9/10 U team that plays in the Gwinnett Football League, or GFL. While Harper and her parents anticipated some people might not like her being a part of the male-dominated sport, any anticipation of backlash failed to phase Harper.

“She is absolutely fearless,” said Kate Pulley, Harper’s mother. “She doesn’t care what anyone thinks.”

Showing people her fearlessness and love for tackling opponents, Harper’s primary positions on the field were defensive lineman, cornerback, offensive lineman and tight end. She also assisted on special teams on kickoff returns.

Harper Pulley made history by being the first girl to ever win a Player of the Week award in the GFL. Photo courtesy of Kate Pulley.

Within the GFL, every team selects a player as its player of the week. Harper recently made GFL history as the first girl to ever receive this honor.

Bo Askew, Harper’s head coach, said she was named player of the week because she has the “heart of a lion” and for being mentally tough against a very talented Buford team.

“This is Harper’s first year at contact football and we all know the nerves that churns in our stomach and the fear that goes through any one’s head doing something that is new,” Askew said. “So I pulled Harper to the side and looked her straight in the eyes and asked if she was ready to get in the game and make something happen, her reply was, ‘Yes, sir,’ and she did so with confidence.”

While Harper focuses primarily on just becoming the best player she can be and enjoying her time on the field, she is aware that she is inspiring other girls to achieve their goals. 

“My cousin is 6 and she lives in Ohio. She wants to play now,” Harper said.

Harper’s family is extremely proud of her. They hear from others about what an amazing girl she is, as well as how much her grit and determination is admired. 

I’ve had many girls and even grown women say to me that they wanted to play football but never asked or tried because they thought they’d be told no,” Kate said. ”I’m so proud that Harper is showing other girls that it is possible to participate in any sport that you have a passion for.”

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