Female kicker suits up for Stevenson Patriots, friend
Stevenson kicker Julia Olson's 20-inch blonde hair flows out of the back of her helmet while on the Patriots sideline Oct. 26 during the football team's game. On the season, Olson went five for six kicking extra points. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 9, 2012 12:22PM
LINCOLNSHIRE — He could not do it, so she did it for him.
Kyle Caraher lost his chance to play his senior season of football when he was killed in a traffic accident in July. In Caraher’s honor, his friend Julia Olson decided she would play it for him.
For a variety of reasons — some obvious and some subtle — it has been an unwieldy swap.
Caraher played at Glenbrook North High School and Olson is a Stevenson Patriot. Caraher was on the offensive line while Olson stands 5-foot-3, weighs 110 pounds and has about 20 inches of blonde hair.
Olson made the Stevenson football team as a placekicker.
“I went from on the sidelines to in an actual game,” the one-time cheerleader said.
Now a senior, Olson started her Stevenson journey by yelling, jumping and kicking to support her classmates.
“When I was cheerleading, I would watch the game, and I would be like ‘That would be so cool to be in there,’” she said.
The desire to be an athlete brought her to the SHS soccer team, where she played sweeper and midfielder. But after the 2011 Patriots football team’s playoff run ended, Olson decided that she wanted to spend her senior year on that team.
At that time, the decision was purely her own. Caraher had every reason to believe he would be back on the Spartans’ line the next fall. He would play his own season.
During the summer, meanwhile, Olson’s work ethic impressed Patriots coach Bill McNamara.
“She came to all the offseason workouts,” he said, “and she’s a good kicker.”
Olson, however, would later admit that she was unprepared for what she was getting into.
“The first thought in my mind,” she said of her initial practice, “was ‘Oh gosh, so many huge men, I’m going to get destroyed.’”
But she made the team, and on Aug. 24, with Lyons Township on the other sideline, Olson became the third female in Stevenson history to don the gold and green helmet.
She kicked the Patriots’ point-after-touchdown attempts — the sole play in high school football in which the opponent cannot take possession of the ball, making it the only play in which there is no chance that she would have to tackle anyone.
Olson is quick to acknowledge the unlikeliness of her bringing an opponent down.
“I’m too small for that, I’ll get destroyed,” she said.
However, contact can happen on every kind of play in football, and had her offensive line failed her, Olson could have been legally crushed by a blocker weighing more than twice as much as her. She said that even on her first live play, she never doubted the boys in front of her.
“I was feeling pretty secure, I just did what I’d been trained to do,” she said.
Of the 66 players on the team, Stevenson carried three other kick specialists. Coach McNamara sent Olson onto the field only six times this season, and she put five of those attempts through the uprights.
“It was really sad, I wanted to have a perfect record,” she said of her miss in the Homecoming game against Warren.
With that 20-inch pony tail tucked between her jersey and shoulder pads, Olson said that few spectators, or opponents, realized that Stevenson had a girl on its team.
“They don’t really know that I’m a girl, they just think I’m a really tiny person,” she said.
Stevenson’s season ended Saturday in the second round of the state playoffs, but Olson left the field proud to have honored Kyle Caraher’s memory.
“It was shocking,” Olson said of the moment last summer when she learned that she no longer had a friend on GBN’s football team. “Shocking doesn’t really describe it.”
Authorities reported that on July 2, Caraher failed to stop at the intersection where Highway 188 crosses Highway 60 in Prairie du Sac, Wisc. Another car struck his, and the 17-year-old died at the scene.
“I had to do something in his honor,” she said.
She played football — not as Caraher did, but in the best way she could. The best tribute she could give to him, she said, was by earning her way onto the team.
“There was a lot of competition,” Olson said. “I’m not that special.”