BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — In high school, football wasn't an option for Erica Olson.
But it is now for the Traverse City West graduate.
Olson is the starting quarterback for the Savannah Sabers in the 62-team Women's Football Alliance.
The team started workouts last week, and Olson hopes the team can improve as much this season as they did the previous campaign.
"Overall, we had a pretty good season, especially compared to the season before," Olson said. "Just playing was the biggest highlight for me — doing something I love and thought I would never be doing. It's great to be around other women who love the game and to be able to play at a competitive level."
The Sabers were 1-7 in their inaugural season two years ago, and then improved to 5-3 when Olson took the signal-caller duties.
She's just about done with work on her Master's degree in health and physical education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga.
"I've always loved the game of football," Olson said. "I played flag football back in elementary school. I played with my family over holidays. And I played intramural flag football at my college, but I knew that would be coming to an end because I'm graduating pretty soon, so I wanted to see what other options there were out there."
She researched on the Internet and found a Web site for the Savannah Sabers, a 40-minute drive away from Statesboro, a trip she now makes three times a week to practice.
The team had already started practices last season when she found out about it.
"There was another quarterback, but that wasn't really the position she wanted to play," said Olson, who played QB on various intramural and flag football teams through the years. "They were actively seeking another quarterback. So when I told them I played quarterback, they really wanted me to come down and check it out."
The WFA includes two Michigan teams, including the Detroit Dark Angels and the West Michigan (Kalamazoo) Mayhem. It's full-contact, 11-on-11 football, with rules almost identical to the NFL's.
The helmet and pads were the biggest adjustment for Olson. That, and getting hit by bigger women, but the scrappy ex-Titan was used to coming home with the occasional black eye in high school.
"I had to get used to looking through the helmet instead of having a full range of motion on my head," Olson said. "For intramurals, there's no equipment. And getting used to getting hit. At first, you might have a little apprehension, but once you get hit a few times, you realize that you will be able to get up and continue to play."
Olson — who stands at 5-foot-5 and about 150 pounds — runs the Sabers' triple-option offense and throws about 10-12 times a game.
Her mom wasn't quite as eager for daughter her to take up tackle football.
"She told me she wanted to do this, and I was like, 'Excuse me?'" Melanie Olson said. "But this is just like her. Once I got over the shock, I was OK with it."
This year's schedule is tentatively set, and the Sabers have the first-year Tennessee Train three times. The season starts April 6.
"It's cool being on the cutting edge of something new," Olson said. "Most people don't even know this exists. It's cool that young girls can look up to us and see that women can play football and it's not just a men's sport. Even though they may be told girls can't play football, yes they can, because there are teams out there that women play football on."