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USC student punts stereotypes and tackles barriers

Emily Cassens shows why gender doesn’t need to define sports

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Sep 26, 2021

Whether she’s on the field or in the classroom, Emily Cassens is out to prove to girls everywhere that they can do anything they set their minds to. After developing an interest in football, Cassens decided to join United South Central’s football team in sixth grade, and hasn’t looked back since.

A fascinating social experiment asks children to draw what various professionals look like. They may doodle a doctor, firefighter, police officer, lawyer, or teacher on their paper.

The gender of each professional is left up to the child’s interpretation.

Results often yield primarily male doctors, female nurses, male firefighters, and female secretaries.

Ostensibly, were children asked to draw a football player, most would picture them as male.

United South Central (USC)’s Emily Cassens looks to challenge that assumption.

She started playing football at school in sixth grade, and has never looked back.

“My dad played in college,” says Cassens, when asked what inspired her to give the sport a go. “I always heard him talk about it, and thought, ‘That sounds like fun.'”

Cassens’s family, which includes her mother, LaRae Cassens, her father, Andy Cassens, and her brother, Jake Cassens, are also football fans, and love to cheer on the Vikings.

“Even when they do bad,” Cassens laughs.

She aims to be much more than a football fan, however.

Cassens, who is a junior this year, has been a steady participant in USC’s football program for years now.

“I’m a lineman,” says Cassens of her current position this year. “I usually play tackle on both offense and defense.”

“This is my first year on varsity,” she adds.

USC’s football team has shown a lot of progress over the course of the season, according to coach Brandon Neseth.

“Overall, we are 1-2,” Neseth shares. “We have improved a lot over the course of the three games, so as a coaching staff we are excited about what the rest of the season has in store for us.”

Cassens seems similarly excited to once again be a member of USC’s football team.

When asked what draws her most to football, Cassens immediately answers, “I like the teammates. We really feel like we’re a family.”

She adds, “I like tackling, that’s always fun.”

Overall, however, it’s clear Cassens values her teammates’ and coaches’ support above all else.

“Everyone who I’ve come across has supported me,” Cassens shares. “My teammates are really supportive. They always cheer for me.”

Neseth echoes her sentiments. “The support for Emily has been great,” he says. “I have never heard any negative comments toward Emily, and all the guys have been supportive in terms of getting her into games.”

Neseth does acknowledge one challenge Cassens has faced as the team’s sole female player.

“The only challenge is when we go to visiting team schools and get locker rooms,” Neseth explains. “The schools always have the boys’ locker room ready to go, and I have to inform them that we have a female on the team, and she’ll need a separate spot.”

However, Neseth adds, “All the programs we have played over the last few years have been very helpful and accommodating.”

Despite some challenges, Cassen’s love for the game and desire to be a role model fuel her to keep playing. “I think a lot of the younger girls look up to me,” Cassens says.

Cassens hopes more girls will consider following in her footsteps.

“If you’re into doing it (football), you should definitely try it,” Cassens urges. “It’s a very fun experience, and it helps you.”

When asked to elaborate upon how football has helped her, Cassens explains, “It definitely keeps me active and teaches me how to work with a team.”

Cassens continues, “It (the team) is not just one part. Everyone has to work together toward a common goal.”

Cassens believes her ability to work with others is a core asset which she lends to USC’s football team.

“I’m a good team player,” Cassens says, after some reflection. “I always try to do my best, even if things aren’t going the greatest.”

As might be expected, given her mindset, Cassens has football-related goals which she hopes to achieve during her last few years on the team.

“I want to get at least one sack,” Cassens shares.

She already achieved one of her goals last season, however.

“Last year we had a really good game,” Cassens remembers. “That was the game I got my first varsity tackle, and that was a really proud moment.”

As a junior, Cassens has two years left at USC. When asked about her plans following her graduation, Cassens shares, “I’m sure I’ll go to college, I’m not sure where yet.”

She acknowledges she likes the idea of continuing with her football career after high school.

“It would be nice to do that (play football in college),” Cassens says. “Even walk-on tryouts, a scholarship.” She sees several possibilities open to her in the future.

Regardless of whether Cassens continues her career in football post-high school, the impact she has had upon USC’s team cannot be denied.

“Emily has been a great teammate. She’s always positive, a student of the game, and willing to do whatever is best for the team,” Neseth concludes.