Anyone who has played football through the varsity level knows how special it is getting a start on Friday night of a season-opening game as a senior.

It carries meaning for every athlete, but last Friday night was especially impactful for Brandon-Evansville’s Katrina Buchholz as she lined up at center with senior quarterback Titus Fuller taking the snap out of the shotgun against Hancock. After almost six years through an up-and-down journey in football, she could check off the last of the three goals she set for herself when she joined the sport as the lone girl on the team in 7th grade.

“Honestly, it didn’t even feel real,” Buchholz said. “Just because I never expected myself to go as far as I have. But I’m glad that I stuck with it and I’m able to make this difference and succeed at my goals. When I started, I made three goals for myself. That was to go all the way through senior year, become a captain and become a starter. I guess I’m one of those people where when I make a goal, I stick to it hardcore.”

Buchholz moved to the Brandon-Evansville area in sixth grade and did not play any sports that first year as she got used to her new surroundings. Even before that in elementary school, she would throw the football around with other kids at recess, and she felt like she might be pretty good at this sport. But she didn’t know of any other girls who had played.

Katrina Buchholz
Katrina Buchholz

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As seventh grade came closer, a couple of boys in her class felt the same way about her ability in football -- she could be pretty good at this. They encouraged her to join, and she did.

“The other seniors that I have been with since day one have completely accepted me,” Buchholz said. “They’re basically my brothers. An older guy my sophomore year had said we’re one big family. We’re a bunch of brothers and a sister. At that point I was the only girl on the team. He said that, and that really stuck with me. This is a family, and it’s where I need to be. I can’t just quit on these guys even if I wanted to.”

Fighting through

There were moments where Buchholz wanted to quit.

She has been made fun of for taking the unconventional path of being in a male-dominated sport. She has dealt with injuries to her knees, a broken toe her junior year, and now a hip flexor strain that she is fighting through as a senior.

During the times she thought about quitting, Buchholz kept remembering the first goal she set for herself. Stick with it. Do something that no one else has done at the school.

“At the end of the year last year we talked, and she said, ‘I just want to be the first girl to make it all the way through the program,’” Brandon-Evansville head coach Tim Pattrin said of Buchholz. “When we were giving her the spot I said, ‘You said you wanted to be the first girl to make it. How would you like to be the first girl to start?’ She gets this big smile on her face. She’s a lot of fun. Those are the things that are fun as a coach to see.”

Buchholz played tight end through much of her career, but the Chargers were in need of help at center on the offensive line heading into a 2021 season where most players on the roster are seeing their first extended varsity snaps. Pattrin pulled Buchholz aside during team conditioning work this past summer to ask her about making a position switch.

“He said we’re moving to shotgun, so it won’t be under center,” Buchholz said. “We really think you would be good at it. We’ve watched your form for lifting and squatting. You have everything we need. At first I was a little confused on why they picked me. But I thought, I’ll give it a shot.”

It did not take long for Buchholz to fall in love with her new position. At a team camp in Bemidji, she realized it was easier for her to get on blocks against defensive lineman at center than at tight end where she found herself dealing with quicker athletes in space more often.

"It’s going to be hard. I have gone up and down like crazy playing football, but in the end it’s worth it. If you set goals for yourself and you look at those goals each and every day, you’ll get there because that goal is going to motivate you to reach it."

- Katrina Buchholz

At 5-feet, 6-inches and about 175 pounds, Buchholz is going to be undersized against nearly every interior defensive lineman she goes against this season. She tries to combat that by staying low and getting a good angle on opponents. Last Friday, she watched how Hancock’s linemen were playing against her before making adjustments.

“All summer long, she has been the talk of every camp, every scrimmage that we’ve gone to,” Pattrin said. “I think it was first night under the lights, it’s an intimidating thing for her to do. She rose to the challenge, and I think she played a much better second half. She figured out that she can play. It’s exciting to see what she has done. She’s battled for four years. She’s done everything we’ve asked, and she deserves it. She has a great center of gravity. She’s able to get under people’s pads, and she’s stronger than you think she is. She’s really done well.”

‘In the end, it’s worth it’

Buchholz was the lone girl on the team for Brandon-Evansville when she started, but she is not anymore.

Kayla Bitzan-Anderson is a junior for the Chargers, and she has added another level of comfort for Buchholz late in her career.

“It’s nice to know other girls are going out for it now,” Buchholz said. “It’s just nice to have somebody there when I’m changing in pre-game and after the game to go through the emotions with me since I can’t be with the guys before and after. It’s nice to not be alone no matter if we win or lose.”

Buchholz said she has dealt with confidence issues on a personal level throughout her life, but football has helped boost her confidence on and off the field. It has not been easy. But it has definitely been worth it in multiple ways as she plays out her final season.

“My advice to any young girl who wants to go out for something that isn’t typical would be if you strongly have a good feeling about it and you think you can do it, go for it,” Buchholz said. “It’s going to be hard. I have gone up and down like crazy playing football, but in the end it’s worth it. If you set goals for yourself and you look at those goals each and every day, you’ll get there because that goal is going to motivate you to reach it.”