- February 19, 2020
When 12-year-old Milana Borrelli steps onto the field, she knows all eyes are on her.
She sees the side-eye glances from opposing players, and she has heard every comment under the sun, from “What is she doing out here?” to “Girls shouldn’t be playing this sport.”
In a sea of young boys, she is the lone girl playing a sport that has long been seen as completely off limits to the female persuasion, but that — and the comments — don’t intimidate her. She’s a linebacker for the Horizon West Wolverines 12U football team and she knows how to handle herself.
“I don’t really like to talk smack, but when they do and when they get tackled, I get their respect pretty easily,” Milana said. “I keep it up inside and then I go out on the field and I use it.
“It doesn’t really matter what other people say, it’s really just what your goal is and how you perceive it,” she said.
While there are the naysayers and doubters, the comments directed her way often are positive, with parents coming up to her and talking about how cool it is that she’s out there doing her thing. And then there are her teammates — which includes her brothers Merek and Malec — who see her as an equal on the football field.
And watching her take things head on is the Wolverines Head Coach Brandon Borrelli — Milana’s dad. He’s seen her overcome obstacles and grow into one of the best defenders on the team.
“She is the best tackler on the team,” Borrelli said. “I have 24 guys on my team and one girl and she is the best tackler. She’s killing it and I couldn’t be any prouder of her.”
Overcoming the stereotypes that come with being a female athlete is one thing that Milana has done since she was a kid — though she originally started in another male-dominated sport.
Back home in Oregon, a then-7-year-old Milana decided to try wrestling, because it was what her brother had participated in. It was there, in wrestling, where she developed her competitive nature.
For Brandon and Denise — Milana’s mom — it was a platform to teach her how to win, lose and overcome obstacles to get to her end goal.
“As I got older I realized that I usually got second all the time, and I realized I didn’t want to be second — I want to be first,” Milana said. “So then I recently won my first state title in Florida for boys and girls, and I’ve also been to a couple of national tournaments and finished top-three in all of them.”
The success in wrestling would eventually give way to football three years ago. The reason she gave for starting is the same reason why she continues playing now.
“I have a mission to empower people to do what they love,” Milana said. “It’s not easy coming out here as a girl and doing everything with guys — I’ve been doing that all of my life. I’m just trying to empower women, because we can really dominate.”
“I don’t really like to talk smack, but when they do and when they get tackled, I get their respect pretty easily. I keep it up inside and then I go out on the field and I use it."
— Milana Borrelli
After playing two years of football in Oregon, the Borrelli family moved to Florida last year. Milana still had that hunger to get out and play football, so they signed her up with Horizon West.
Just as before with a new team, Milana had to come into a situation where she was the only girl on the team and once again there was some questioning of her being out there.
“I got those looks and I got those comments — that’s always what you get,” Milana said. “Then you put your first impression out there — then they’re like, ‘OK, well I take back what I said.’”
Milana went from being questioned to being one of the most respected players on the team, and has been affectionally nicknamed “Hollywood,” because — as Milana puts it — she “shines brightest under the lights.”
With the Wolverines’ season well underway, you can expect Milana to shine as she hands out crushing blows to both opposing teams and to the stereotypes she has dedicated her life to fighting.
“I always have a mission and that’s to make my point and be myself,” Milana said. “I don’t really get caught up in that drama — I just go out there and deliver my part and hopefully everyone else will. I’m different and nobody is going to stop me.”