KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- In his 44-year career of coaching football, Farragut’s Eddie Courtney has never coached a female player, until this season.

Farragut high school freshman Sarah Jones plays rugby and decided to give football a try this year.

“My brother plays football, so I decided why not follow him and play it too,” said Jones. So, she joined the Admirals freshman team.

She came to Eddie Courtney and his staff in the spring expressing her interest in joining the team. He said he talked to her about, “a couple of things” and told her to think about it.

She did, and then she came back. Jones went through football workouts and conditioning, rolling right into practice in the preseason–only missing a day or two.

“She’s earned the respect of her other players,” said Courtney. “She really has. She’s taken it seriously. I think her whole thing is like she told me – she just wanted to play football, nothing more than that. [She] didn’t want more attention about it. She just wanted to see if she could play”

Jones did not let any doubt or the possibility of critics stop her from pursuing football.

“It’s a little intimidating,” said Jones on becoming the first girl to play football for Farragut.

“I’m afraid of the backlash some people don’t like girls playing boy sports, or boy-dominated sports so you have to be ready for anything.”

She also did not let her health stop her either.

Her mother, Angie Jones, said Sarah was diagnosed with her first autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, at 6-years-old. Four years later, she was diagnosed with her second, Ulcerative Colitis, at 10. Sarah also battles anxiety, brought on even stronger by the pandemic.

“It was a real struggle [for her] to even attend school,” said Angie Jones. Football helped change that.

“The training and team spirit of football helps her have goals and purpose and she is now jumping out of bed to get to school early.”

Jones plans to continue her high school football career and hopes to inspire other girls who are interested in playing football to get in the game.

“When I joined, they said a lot of other females had wanted to play but never pursued it and I was like why not me be the beginning of it and everybody else can join,” said Jones. “I’m used to being the first, which is scary, but I like when other people join. It’s less intimidating.”

In her first season playing football, she already has. Angie said another parent approached Sarah after practice recently and mentioned that his daughter, who is currently in the eighth grade, was excited to see Sarah playing high school football because it has given her confidence to join the high school team next year.

“She wants other girls to know that although it is a very physically and mentally demanding sport if they really want to play football, be brave and go talk to your high school football coaches,” said Angie.

Jones had been practicing with the offensive and defensive line in the preseason. Coach Courtney said she has been rotating in during games with the freshman team as a defensive tackle.