SPARTA — It came as a complete surprise.
Getting chosen as this year’s Homecoming Queen was the last thing that the kicker on the Highland Scots’ football team thought would ever happen. Before anyone knew it, Riley Kemmer, who was preparing for the Highland Scots’ Friday night home game against Mount Gilead, was announced to the crowd as the 2019 Homecoming Queen.
“I was totally surprised,” she said. “Being crowned Homecoming Queen was totally awesome and unexpected, but the highlight of the whole night for me was when they called in all of the senior football escorts. And I looked around and thought, ‘This is the rest of the senior football team. These are my boys.’”
It was one of the happiest moments in Kemmer’s high school career.
“Seeing all their smiles was so cool and now, I’m seeing all the photos coming back,” she said. “Those boys are the brothers I never had.”
That would have been enough to make anyone’s night, but she had to come down off that emotional high right away.
“After that, going into the locker room before the game, my teammates went crazy when I walked in,” Kemmer said. “But then it was time to put all that aside because we had a game to play.”
Getting down to business and working hard is a routine matter for the 5-foot-7, 140-pound placekicker. Kemmer, who is the only girl on the Scots’ football team, played girl’s soccer for years. She added football last season.
“Well, I played soccer for 13 years, and in my freshman year, that was the first year that Highland had varsity soccer,” Kemmer said. “So I played soccer all through my freshman and sophomore years. The kicker on our football team had graduated during my freshman year, so we needed a kicker. I thought trying out would be pretty cool. I’ve played soccer and it’s just kicking a ball. I feel like I can kick a football. So I gave my hand at it, and I wasn’t terrible.”
She quickly realized that her new endeavor involved more than booting a ball. She got to see the game of football from a perspective that few girls get.
“The winter before the 2018 season, I started lifting with the football team and got to know them,” said Kemmer. “I knew the boys already, because I go to school with them, but they’re different when they’re in the weight room or on the football field than they are in the hallways at school,” Kemmer said. “The coach said, ‘Start lifting and bonding with the boys, because that’s easiest way you’re going to get accepted.’ I went to lifting every day. Then lifting turned into summer conditioning. Then, summer conditioning turned into two-a-days. In my junior year, I juggled soccer practice and football two-a-days. I had soccer practice two days a week, football practice and Friday night football games. Then, depending on my soccer schedule, if I did not have a Saturday game I would also play a JV football game. Then, I really found out that in football, there is a bond with the team that is like no other that I have ever played on.”
Kemmer credits her teammates for the way they have supported her.
“Going into my senior year, I just fell in love with football and the bond we had on our team, and I knew that this is how I wanted to spend my senior year,” Kemmer said. “It was hard to give up soccer this year, but I am so grateful I chose just football, because the boys treat me like any other teammate. They treat me like one of the boys.”
One of the things that Kemmer has learned about football is the level of commitment that every player on the team must have to be successful.
“The mentality is different for sure,” Kemmer said. “With the boys on the football team, the mentality is that we are all in. It’s definitely all in, in football. At every practice, you put your heart into every single thing. That goes on at practice and even the lifting. You’re pushing the weight as hard as you can in there. That was the biggest thing for me to get used to. These boys aren’t here to mess around. They are here to play hard and to do the best that they can, all the time. I really had to adjust that because, in soccer, it’s more relaxed and kind of laid-back compared to football, which is something that you need to put in everything you have.”
Kemmer was surprised by the demands of football, but she learned to adjust.
“In our summer conditioning program, we were running 110-yard sprints, which are timed,” Kemmer said. “We were running 16 of them straight. At that point, it’s just mind over matter. In football, you’re just here to get better and put everything else aside. That’s the thing about coaches in football. They push you mentally and physically, but at the end of the day, they just want you to get better — as a player and as a person.”
The ordeal of training in the blazing heat of summer is a common burden all teams must bear. For the Scots, losing the first four games of the 2019 season added to that ordeal. Kemmer thinks all of that hardship has strengthened the bonds that hold them together.
“It was really hard, the first few weeks, because we had put all of that time and effort into our season and off-season to prepare for Bloom Carroll, Ontario and River Valley,” Kemmer said. “Walking out with those three losses was not easy for us, because we knew we were better than that. We knew how much time we put into that. We’ve been around each other every day of the week, all week long, since the summer.”
After dropping those three non-league games, the Scots were scheduled to open their Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference schedule on the road against a powerful East Knox team, where they lost 40-9. Since then, the Scots have rattled off three consecutive league wins, and Kemmer and her teammates are now seeing the fruits of their labor.
“After (Week 4), we knew we were all in this together and we had to figure it out,” Kemmer said. “Now that we have those wins, our morale has really risen and changed.”
Kemmer made her first field-goal attempt at East Knox. Despite the team’s slow start, making that kick was a personal triumph that she shared with receiver Landon Remmert, who is Highland’s holder on field goals and extra points, and the team’s snapper, Wyatt Hornsby.
“We have a great chemistry between the three of us,” Kemmer said. “We have it down to a science now. Against East Knox, I wasn’t even thinking about what yard line I was on. I was just depending on those two to get the ball into the spot so I could kick it. I could not have done it without them or my teammates. They make me look good. We practice PATs and field goals all the time. We definitely have the timing down pat now.”
As a placekicker, Kemmer knows that the possibility always exists that she might be all that stands between a speeding kick returner and a touchdown. She is learning how to run them down and push them over to the sidelines.
“On one kickoff at Fredericktown, it came down to me,” Kemmer said. “Their returner came right through the line. He ended up in the endzone, but there was a flag on the play, so they got called back. Since then, I have been practicing what to do if that ever happens again. Now, I know how to cut the angles and push them outside and out of bounds.”
As the daughter of an Ohio State highway patrolman, Kemmer wants to be a dispatcher with that department in the future. She also has some other dreams.
“I know how important the job of a dispatcher is,” Kemmer said. “I also want to study American sign language because, if I can get into a business where I could be an interpreter, I think that would be really impactful — not only to myself but to others, and I like the idea of being able to communicate with people, who need an interpreter.”
On top of that, Kemmer is pondering going to OSU-Newark to study business. She is currently taking business classes at Highland.
“Well, right now, I am really into my business class,” Kemmer said. “I am a part of Business Professionals of America, where we learn how to use a computer and we also learn about the different parts of a business and how a business should be run.”
Kemmer’s foray into football has the support of her parents.
“I don’t think they ever had any doubt about it,” Kemmer said. “I played soccer which is a contact sport. As a goalie, I constantly threw myself on the ground. I’d like to think I’m pretty tough. My parents never told me, ‘No.’ They never doubted me. I think it’s in the back of their head that I could get hurt, but they don’t dwell on it.”
Highland (3-4, 3-1 KMAC) plays Centerburg on the road this Friday. Kemmer, who used to go to Centerburg while in elementary school, will be kicking off to some people she knows.
“My best friend Zoey cheers at Centerburg and I am friends with a lot of the football team, so I am super psyched for the Centerburg game,” Kemmer said.