ONA — Olivia Charles was in a familiar setting Monday, kicking a ball into a soccer net.
This time, though, it was a football.
The Cabell Midland junior is considered by many the premier girls soccer player in West Virginia and one of the better ones in the eastern part of the country. She also has become one of the state’s better placekickers in football. Charles figures to be an integral part of a Knights team tabbed as a strong contender to win the Class AAA football state championship.
“We’re supposed to be really good this year,” Charles said of football, then catching herself and adding the same comment about soccer. “Soccer’s doing great. We have a really good team chemistry this season, a really good team. I’m excited for the season.”
Charles, whose sister Emilie plays soccer at West Virginia University, is one of the busier student-athletes in the state. Football practice is at 8:30 a.m. Soccer practice is at 7 p.m.
“We practice, then run and lift,” Charles said. “Then I grab something to eat, then maybe do a private session or come to the field on my own. Then in the evening I have soccer practice. It’s very busy, but both coaches [Luke Salmons in football, Andy Wilson in soccer] are really good about helping me make it work.”
Charles’ college career likely will be in soccer. Major colleges are showing great interest in the speedy and powerful scorer. She smiled when asked if she thought about playing college football.
“That would be really fun, but I haven’t really thought about it that much,” Charles said.
Female kickers aren’t prevalent, but neither are they especially rare. Cabell Midland even had one in 2009 when Sami Molina was the latest in a long line of kickers from her family to take the field for the Knights. Elicia Wood at Point Pleasant, Taylor Reedy at Buffalo, Cassie Bowsher at Ravenswood and Emma Marshall at Fairland (Rome Township, Ohio) starred last season.
Few, however, are on the athletic level of Charles. Marshall, who signed to run cross country and track at Shawnee State, also played basketball and golf.
Charles, a junior, admired Marshall’s senior pictures, which featured her in a black dress and heels, wearing her homecoming queen crown, while lined up to kick a field goal.
“Oh, wow,” said Charles, an attendant at Cabell Midland’s homecoming. “I need to do something like that.”
Charles started kicking as a freshman, backing up now-Marshall University kicker Cameron Grobe. She took over full time last season and helped the Knights to a 5-0 record before COVID-19 shut down the season.
“COVID was really hard, especially with the recruiting process for college,” Charles said. “I’m not home much. I’m at ID camps almost every day. My family helped and so did coaches and trainers. Things have started coming back to normal.”
For football and girls soccer at Cabell Midland, normal means winning.
“She’s doing great,” Salmons said of Charles. “She’s as much a part of our team as anyone. She works hard and does a good job. We’re thankful to have her.”
Charles overcame a fractured pelvis suffered during soccer season in 2019 to return to stardom. Hard work in the weight room and running helped her get her legs back in shape. Lifting with the football team also has helped, but it’s not her legs where Charles sees the difference.
“Since I started lifting with football this year, I’ve never done more upper-body workouts in my life,” Charles said. “I was looking in the mirror and thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It’s a very different type of training.
“Soccer is a lot more straight wind. Football does a lot more. I can already tell the difference. The weightlifting program was really good for me. I can tell the difference.”
Added upper-body strength could come in handy in soccer season. As did her sister, Charles often draws two or three defenders trying to contain her. Often, play becomes physical as foes try to knock her off her game.
Charles’ toughest opponent to overcome, though, was herself, particularly in football. As a freshman, she lined up for an extra point attempt and, despite shaking, made it.
“I though, ‘Oh, Lord, oh, Lord,’” said Charles, who thanked God for her athletic ability. “I was scared, but I have a great group blocking for me and that helped. My coaches calmed me down and I made it. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders because I made it.”
Charles said her decision to play isn’t popular with everyone. She said her teammates looked at her “as if I had 20 heads” when she first showed up for football practice.
“Now, they’re like family to me,” Charles said.
Like brothers. Big, protective brothers.
“Some people don’t like it much that I play football,” Charles said. “The other teams say things. People say things on social media, too. I’ve been said everything in the book on the field. They don’t take too kindly to it.”
Charles said she has learned to deal with such comments. Her best response? Splitting the uprights.