Athlete Spotlight: Liliana Carannante and Lyla Gardner, Football

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A couple girls from Pasadena are defying stereotypes and blazing their own trails on area football fields this fall. 

Liliana Carannante, 10, plays for the 9U/100-lbs Panthers, and Lyla Gardner, 14, plays for the Chesapeake JV team. 

Carannante is one of at least two girls playing AAYFA football this fall. Gardner is the only female member of a JV or varsity football team at any of the county’s public high schools.

While girls have been known to play football with some frequency as kickers, both Carannante and Gardner are in the trenches: Carannante plays on the offensive and defensive lines, and Garner plays kickoff coverage and middle linebacker for the JV Cougars.

Carannante is playing football this year for the first time.

“I like tackling people, and I think it’s really fun,” Carannante said on September 16, a day after she registered her first career sack in the 9U Panthers’ game against Old Mill.

Carannante has competed in taekwondo for six years and sees crossover between the two sports.

“My next belt is my black belt,” she said. “Taekwondo is fun. Sparring helps me with defense. It helps me when I tackle people. It made me stronger.”

Carannante was self-motivated to get into football, but she may draw further inspiration from Gardner, who is contributing for the JV Cougars.

Gardner played for the 14U Panthers last year in her first year playing football and said she confronted doubters in doing so.

“People kept saying, ‘You can’t do it. You’re not strong enough. You can’t do it because you’re a girl,’” Gardner said. “So, I wanted to prove a point that not only can I play football, but girls can. Everybody thought I was going to quit, but nope.”

Gardner made a tackle in the JV Cougars’ win over Severna Park on September 7 and said her knowledge and love of the game has grown this season.

“Last year I went into football not knowing anything,” she said. “This year is way better. I have more experience and know the game more. I know the positions and all my plays, and it’s way easier…I love the aggressiveness of football. I can come to practice in a bad mood, and I’ll leave in the happiest mood. I get all my anger out in practice.”

Both players are happy to be playing, and they’ve already defied naysayers.

“I don’t even care what they say,” said Carannante, “because I know that I can play football, and any girl can.”

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