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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
Over the past week Corning quarterback Hannah Smith threw 12 touchdown passes in a pair of games.

The Hawks aerial attack has been a big part of the team’s success in flag football this year, and it’s one of the biggest differences between the flag game and the boys games in the area.

“I’ll throw down the field and there are multiple people doing up to catch it,” Smith said. “It’s more fun to watch I feel like.

“It’s definitely really nice to know I can trust my receivers, because I don’t have to be worried when I throw it that far because I know somebody at least is going to make an effort to catch it.”

One of the top receivers for the Hawks has been Jayda Felker, who leads all players in the league in touchdowns scored this year, while Smith leads the area in touchdown passes.

“I know from a lot of people that have come to watch us they say it’s a lot of fun because we are just throwing the ball and it’s just different,” Felker said.

The 12 touchdown passes in two games is more than any boys quarterback threw in a two-week span in Section 4 this past year as the girls throw as often, or more, than they run. The boys game, with a full offensive line and 11 on 11 is a different style than the girls, who play 7 on 7 games that are more similar to boys summer 7 on 7 tournaments.

Brooke Johnston is plenty familiar with high school football in Corning. Her dad, Mike Johnston Jr., is the boys coach. She knows there is a big difference between the boys and girls as the boys dominate with the double-wing offense, and they mix in passes at select times, as Johnston says ‘throw to score.’”

One thing Brooke seems to have definitely learned from her dad and grandpa is the importance of defense as she leads the area in interceptions this year.

“I did say that to coach (Richard Capo) because he is an assistant to varsity (boys) and honestly this is crazy because my dad never throws the ball like this, so throwing the ball like this is something new.”

For Johnston being around football her whole life helped give her an idea of what to expect in the flag game.

“I have two younger brothers, being at their games, obviously growing up I’ve been at all my dad’s games,” she said. “My grandfather (Mike Johnston Sr.) was a coach at Notre Dame, so I watched him.”

And, Johnston gets plenty of insights from her family about the way games go.

“Every night,” she said. “Every night there is something new I can improve on. It’s deftly special to be able to continue on the generation of football. I grew up watching football my whole life. Hearing his (her dads) insight on things is nice.”

Johnston isn’t the only one who has a family who is big into the sport. While Smith doesn’t have a parent coaching high school football, she does come from a football-loving family.

“We have season tickets to Pittsburgh football games,” Smith said. “We are at a lot of those. My family, they love football, so it’s kind of in my blood to like it. I kind of have the experience watching, going to the games at the collegiate level. So, it’s fun to be part of.

“I think kind of knowing what was going on during each play made it easier. I feel like if I didn’t have any knowledge of any of the football games itself I’d be lost so it’s nice to have experience prior to this.”

For the Hawks players it’s special being a part of the first flag team in school history.

“It’s definitely very special, set new records, be the first to do it,” Johnston said. “If you don’t jump on it you won’t be able to experience something like this. We don’t have a lot of players, but we all work hard in practice and we show what we’ve got, so we come prepared for games.”

“I think it’s very awesome bing a part of something not a lot of other people are able to do,” Smith said. “We are the first ones to experience this at our school. I don’t think we have anywhere near as many players as some of the other schools, but it pushes us to work as hard as we possibly can. This is the only sport we are doing, so are focus is only on this.”

The Hawks have a mix of athletes from other sports, but they also have kids who don’t play other sports in the spring so this is the one sport they are focused on.

“Everybody for the most part on the team plays a sport, so being able to get together on another level of being able to play football is fun for us,” Johnston said.

“These are girls I don’t play other sports with for the most part, so I am getting to learn something new iwht new people and it’s a lot of fun, we have all gotten really close,” Smith said.

“It’s definitely a lot of new girls and the whole dynamic of football is not like any other sports,” Felker said. “Some things are similar, but it’s just completely different and the girls I’m playing with are a lot of fun and our connection is great.

“It’s nice having the girls we have because I feel like we all get a chance to shine and show what we have to do. Not having to play two sports is nice as well.”

There were definitely some nerves coming into a new sport this year.

“I think it’s awesome, it’s also at the same time a little scary,” Felker said. “No one really knows what they are doing, it’s just a whole new experience, but being able to make a name for this sport and show a whole bunch of other people it is fun is just something new and you have to not be afraid to try new things.

“Definitely was a little scary at first. It was new and there were a lot of things that in my other sports, basketball and soccer, we didn’t do half the things we did here. It was definitely scary, but after a few practices it got better and it was a lot more fun.”

Having some understanding of the game coming in definitely made things easier for a lot of the girls.

“You have got to know your place on the field, you can honestly play anywhere, so you have to know what each position does,” Johnston said.

“I feel like it was definitely chaotic at first,” Smith said. “I guess I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know what to expect and I never really played a super contact sport other than like basketball, so I guess being on the ground and being physical it’s a new thing for me. It’s very different, but it came with time.”

If you watch a flag game you will see the enjoyment the girls have on the field, and the friendly rivalry with other schools that are also new to the sport.

“I am friends with a lot of people from other schools that are also playing this sport and it’s like you are out there playing against each other, but you are also playing together at the same time and it’s a lot of new faces I don’t typically play against,” Johnston said. “A lot of fun to have new competition I’m not playing against in other sports.”

“I know a lot of girls, especially on Elmira, I played against them in basketball and just going out there it was a really friendly competition,” Felker said. “The competition is definitely there, but we are kind of cheering each other on to get better and have fun. That competition has been great.”

Smith and Johnston are both juniors who are excited to see where this team can go not just this year, but into the future.

“I’m actually really excited,” Johnston said. “Now that I”m a junior starting this year I’ll be able to play next year and it’s definitely going to give more opportunity for us to get better.

“You kind of just bring what you have and get better through practice. You’d on’t have to be an excellent football player, because obviously it’s new to all of us.”

The Hawks are already having a great first season and they are hoping for even more success in the future.

“I think the chemistry is just going to keep on building from her and next year I’m hoping a couple more kids come out so we have a bigger team,” Smith said. “A couple more athletes in the mix and I think it will really cool to keep building the program.”

Felker is one of the seniors on the team and she wishes the sport had come earlier in her high school career.

“I wish I had it easier because I’ve had so much fun and there are so many things that are going to be different next year,” Felker said. “I don’t think they are having states this year, which they will have next year which is super cool. Really sad, but I hope it just continues to grow and becomes a bigger program here.”

The whole thing kind of is full circle for Felker who played flag football when she was younger.

“Back when I was in elementary school they had a whole flag football thing they did so I played before,” Felker said. “But, I definitely don’t have a lo too football experience besides that.”

The flag sport has been promoted by the NFL in New York and the girls got a chance to go to cam where they worked with players from the New York Giants earlier this year, which was special for all the girls.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity, I don’t know a lot of people even in your lifetime you are going to be that close to someone and be able to meet them,” Johnston said. “I think its’ very important they (the NFL) are supporting the program and making it grow for more people to enjoy it.”
FROM LEFT: Corning’s Brooke Smith, Jayda Felker and Brooke Johnston. . . PHOTO BY BRIAN FEES 

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