MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As high school football teams across the state get ready for playoffs, one player is already calling their season a success.
Lili Charlier, 17, became the first girl to spend an entire season on the Brainerd varsity football team. She saw most of her action on JV as part of the offensive line.
But playing with the boys is just a small part of what makes Lili an inspiration.
On a nearly perfect Fall evening, the Brainerd JV football team is trying to put the finishing touches on an undefeated season. To make that happen, they’ll need help from No. 63 — one of the strongest players not only on the team, but in the entire school.
“You learn to love it,” Lili said. “You learn to love the bruises and getting the wind knocked out of you.”
This isn’t a story about a girl trying to keep up with the boys, but rather the boys trying to keep up with the girl. Lili is a standout track and field athlete, and she’s a state champion power lifter.
The weight room is where she met the Warrior football coaches, where she told them their sport is something she’d always wanted to try.
“She’s a ray of hope for everybody, and she doesn’t want anyone to give her slack,” coach Wade Haapajoki said. “She’s going to do her job and bring her A-game every time.”
Lili quickly excelled on the field, to no one’s surprise but her own.
“I didn’t honestly think I could do it. Especially the two a days,” she said. “I did it, and I’m finishing my senior year, and I’m very proud of myself. I’m blessed with the people I’ve met along the way.”
With her ponytail hanging out, Lili can be punishing at times — making her teammates happy she doesn’t let defenders, and stereotypes, get in her way.
“I’m really glad she did,” Haapajoki said. “She’s been a blessing to have on our team.”
But there’s a whole other side to Lili — one that takes her far away from the football field.
“She is a phenomenal ukulele player and she can sing really well,” one of her teammates said.
On weekends, Lili trades in her shoulder pads for a ukulele. She likes football, weightlifting and track, but she loves making music, regularly playing at birthday parties and breweries.
“I’m a big person, so it’s kind of funny,” Lilli said of the small, guitar-like instrument.
But there’s nothing funny about the way she plays or the way she sings.
Her music can be found on her Facebook page, creatively name “Ukilili.” From shows to sports, Lili is someone whose giving the phrase “girl power” new meaning.
“Society often tells us we can’t do it. A lot of times our brain tells us the same thing. But if it’s something you want to do, I honestly believe it’s something anyone can do if they put their mind to it,” she said. “It’s scary and hard, but once you get over it, it’s unbelievable.”
Lili is working with two girls who are in Brainerd’s youth football program, as well. She qualified for state in the discus last year and hopes to do shot put and the hammer throw in college after she graduates.