Gigantic approach

Weaver brings gigantic approach to gridiron

With over a proud decade of women’s football gracing its fields, the province of New Brunswick has made a remarkable statement about sporting equality. Through the efforts of many dedicated individuals, the sport has quickly become a way of life for so many of its female competitors.

While all of the women that have broken barriers in the sport bring remarkable life experiences and special stories to the gridiron, one of the most unique belongs to Sarah Weaver. As a former competitive cheerleader, the chance for Weaver to don the helmet and put the shoulder pads on was a superlative opportunity to not only challenge social convention but change any preconceived notions or perceptions of cheerleaders.

”First off, I never ever would have imagined little me (5’3″, 105-110 lbs) would play a contact sport let alone a collision sport! I was in competitive cheerleading for almost 10 years prior to my football life.

I was captain of my high school cheerleading team and traveled to Orlando, Florida in 2010 to compete in the cheerleading world championships. I was pretty serious about that sport. Being tossed around and lifting other humans was second nature to me.”

Despite being small in stature, Weaver approached the game with the heart of a giant. Her efforts to excel in football were akin to Emily Armsworthy, a 5’0” firecracker who would earn MWFL All-Star nods while competing for the Halifax Xplosion and Team Atlantic at the 2012 Canadian Women’s National Championships. Another similarity was the fact that Weaver, like so many other women from the MWFL and WWCFL, first began to learn the game while competing at the flag football level,

“My love for football started with the women’s touch football league here in Saint John. I am a part of the LBW (purple) team. They taught me all the basics and how to play the touch version of football. Prior to that, I had never even watched football really. Once I began to understand the sport I was hooked!!

A lot of the tackle football girls in Saint John play in the touch league in the fall so I had friends who played the more “serious” version of football. One night, a friend said ‘you should come tryout for the Saint John Storm (women’s tackle football).’ I laughed. A lot. And joked, saying ‘imagine that. Me playing tackle football’.”


The self-effacing humour quickly shifted to ambition and desire. While Weaver has engaged in a profession as a nurse, she quickly managed to emulate her future football teammates, balancing the obligations of football and career,

“Believe it or not, after a night shift, I went to my first Storm tryout and fell even more in love with the sport. It became a passion. The more I learned the more passionate I became.”

That passion would quickly lead to a remarkable boost in her confidence. Despite a smaller frame and a long career as a cheerleader, Sarah Weaver would now engage in a 180-degree turn. She would now adapt the persona of the gridiron heroes that she once cheered for in years past, empowering herself in ways never before considered,

“A moment that stands out for me in football is the feeling of being strong. It might sound silly but it is my favorite part. I am always told that I am small or tiny or any other word related to small (laughs). To make a hit and take someone down is an amazing feeling.

I prove to myself again and again how strong I actually am. And how important it is to be mentally strong and believe in yourself, your team mates and your coaches. They made me feel 6-feet tall all season! It has actually helped me out in my life away from football as well… it is amazing what you can do when you feel strong (mentally and physically).”

Through this life-changing experience, there have also been mentors. One such mentor along this remarkable journey, a journey of transformation and great personal victory, was Larry Harlow. From having coached Team Canada at the inaugural IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in 2010, to leading the Saint John Storm to multiple championships in the Maritime Women’s Football League, he is to coaching in New Brunswick what men like Paul Brown and Tom Landry meant to pro football in the 1950s and 1960s.

Photo credit: Jason Quackenbush

Photo credit: Jason Quackenbush

“For someone who inspires me, it is hands down my Storm coach, Larry Harlow. He went from being a stranger to one of the key people in my life. He taught me everything and I mean everything about tackle football. (Things such as) how to throw a football, how to keep myself safe, how to be bigger and stronger, how to persevere through four-quarter drills and so much more.

He inspired me (in the) pre-season to be the best I could be and he believed in me when I thought I was crazy for trying this “football thing”. He was so patient teaching me everything I needed to know to be a smart player. I played DB (corner) as my first-ever football position and I will never forget the first tackle I made. It did not hurt as much as I thought it would (laughs).”

In many ways, the accomplishments of Weaver were equally the ones of Harlow as well. Taking into account that his daughter Lisa also plays football, Harlow has dedicated his life to not only coaching the game, but ensuring that women have a chance to enjoy it. The efforts of Harlow only added to the thrill of such a positive life-changing experience for Weaver,

“I felt like Larry was just as happy and proud as I was! He is a huge inspiration outside of football as well. I learned and continue to learn so much from him. I am proud of the person he is and I am honored to be coached by him.

This season, I plan on trying a new position (receiver) and I know Larry (and the other coaches) will need to have a lot of patience with me again (laughs), but it is a way for me to expand myself in the sport and grow as a player.

Nothing will compare to my love for football and I am so grateful for Larry, my other coaches and my teammates for being so amazing. Girls are tough. People do not know what they are missing!! If someone has not given the sport a try, I would highly recommend it. It is not something I can put into words. You just got to do it.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.

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