Brianna Thibeault (from left), Shelby Theriault, Megan Collin and Jainnie Guillemette stand ready to run a drill during practice Sept. 16 in Madawaska. Credit: Patience Bernier | PMB Photography

MADAWASKA, Maine — In a field dominated by male athletes, teen football players Megan Collin, 14, and Brianna Thibeault, 15, both earned team awards and were asked to join next season’s co-ed Valley Mustangs varsity team.

Collin and Thibeault are two of the five girls on the team, including Shelby Theriault of Fort Kent, Jainnie Guillemette of Madawaska and Gabrielle Turcotte Arton of Canada. Collin and Thibeault were invited to advance to varsity next season after they each received an award during the team’s year-end banquet Saturday night.

This was Collin’s second year to play and she walked away with the lineman of the year award, while Thibeault took the offensive most valuable player award to add to her three-year, award-winning record on the team.

Collin said that watching her father get “sucked up in the game” got her into football.

“I used to think that football was really boring,” she said. “Growing up I was always close to my dad, since my mom died when I was 5. I remember trying to like things that he liked — the ‘80’s rock music he would blast in the car, the activities he would participate in, only ate foods that he ate. I love my dad.”

Thibeault also has strong family ties to the sport, and with the Valley Mustangs in particular.

“The Valley Mustangs has been part of our family for a while now — seven years,” said Thibeault’s mother Tania Thibeault. “Football is Brianna’s comfort zone.”

Thibeault took an interest in football after her brother aged out of the league. Her mother remains active on the board, and her father and brother are both coaches for the team.

“My brother played football for the Valley Mustangs for four years and I liked watching him play,” Thibeault said. “After he graduated, I decided I wanted to be like my brother and play football too. I was encouraged by my family to play.”

For Collin, after a round of trying new sports, she said she finally found her niche.

“When I was younger I tried many different sports, but ended up not liking them, or just flat out found them boring,” Collin said. “Last year I got the chance to join an amazing football team, and I took that chance. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. It felt great to finally find a sport that I really loved.”

As females in a male-dominated sport, Collin and Thibeault faced some issues, but were able to overcome them with help from one another.

“I knew that there would be hardships being a girl joining a ‘masculine’ sport, but the good outweighed the bad,” she said. “I was lucky that there were other girls on the team.”

Collin said she made some great friends with the other girls on the team, but that they all face some challenges.

“It can be challenging during the games,” Collin said. “Sometimes other teams might take it easy on us girls, but once they see how we play, they go full force.”

Even Thibeault said she had issues just starting out.

“When I first started to play football, I struggled understanding the game,” Thibeault said. “Sometimes it was hard for me to get motivated, but my team inspired me to keep going.”

Collin’s stepmother Jenn Collin said, “The start of the season was rough for Megan. She was getting pushed around, but she finally found her strength and fought back hard.”

Coach Brandon Thibeault said that while the girls had less understanding of the game in the beginning, their strengths included dedication.

“They were at all of the practices and games,” he said. “Their team could depend on them.”

Despite the moments of hardship faced by female athletes, Megan Collin said she’s just one of the guys.

“All around, being a girl on the team is mostly like being a guy,” Collin said. “We have great coaches, and fellow teammates who treat us like everyone else. I have huge respect toward our football family, and I am glad to be future player for our varsity team.”