On February 4th, Julie Ertz is trading in her cleats for a football jersey. And instead of being on the field, the US Soccer Female Player of 2017 will be in the stands at the Super Bowl, cheering on her husband, Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz.
“This is his moment. This is his game. My family. His family,” she told ABC. We’re here to support him and all of his hard work and his team. And what this team has done together and for the city of Philadelphia.”
She married Ertz, her college sweetheart, in March of 2017, after four years of dating. A defining moment in both her professional and personal life was when she changed the name on her NWSL team jersey back in April. “The first time I saw it I was super excited, ” she told US Soccer. “I thought I might be a bit sad, but it was really cool to see it for the first time with my NWSL team. It might be a little more special when it’s on the back of the National Team jersey.”
Here’s what you should know about the 25-year-old who is making a name for herself in the world of women’s soccer.
1. She Had Just Finished a Game When She Learned Her Husband Was Super Bowl Bound
On January 21st, the Eagles and Vikings played the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia. However, it was 3:40 pm local time in California, where Julie took on Denmark in the national team’s first game of the year, less than an hour later. She told ESPN:
It’s really a cool opportunity, in the sense that we’re both doing what we love at the same time. Of course, we wish we could watch each other. I don’t think it’s ever matched up quite like this on the timing, and with such an amazing playoff opportunity for him. But at the same time, we know we’re both going to be focusing on our games.
After the whistle blew marking the end of her game- where Julie scored the winning goal- she received the news that Zach was headed to the Super Bowl. Watch the emotional clip, which went viral, above. “When I heard the score, I was just so proud of the team. I mean, I felt everything,” she told ABC. “Of course, I would have loved to have been there in such a huge moment, but I was so happy to know that my family was still there and I just couldn’t wait to talk them on the phone.”
During the Super Bowl’s Media Day, she interviewed some of the Eagles and even her husband at the 2:18 mark. However, the reporters there turned the microphones on her. “It’s crazy. I am here as a wife, I’m here as a fan and I’m here to support him in any way that’s possible,” Julie said to the media there. I came here just to interview him, and now I have all these things [microphones] in my face right now.”
“She wanted to come here and just be my wife,” Zach said. “Hopefully, on Sunday it will be even better if we’re celebrating after the game.”
2. She Won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Playing Every Minute of All 7 Games
She gained mainstream fame as the center back for the U.S. at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Although she didn’t make the World Cup qualifier, she wound up as a starting defender. “A last-minute addition to the team, she nonetheless started and played every minute in the World Cup, made FIFA’s all-tournament team and won the kind of following that gives her more than half a million Instagram followers,” ESPN explained.
The team won the Cup’s final game against Australia. The victory marked the first in 16 years for U.S. women in the World Cup. Ertz’s contribution to their success was recognized by the team’s coach, Jill Ellis, had this to say about the star player:
She’s a weapon. She’s so good in the air. She’s so committed on her run because she gets to that post every time. She’ll run through anything. She’s been a great add on for us.
During the tournament, The New York Times reported that a journalist described her by saying, “Julie, you have the face of an angel and you tackle like an absolute beast.”
3. In College, She Was Named All-American 3 Times & Captain of the Under-20 World Cup Team
When looking at colleges, she focused on schools that were affording her a full scholarship, not wanting to place the burden of tuition on her parents. “I knew wherever I went, I wasn’t going to have my parents pay for college, so I’d go on visits and just cross off schools if they didn’t give me a full ride,” she told US Soccer.
However, she ultimately chose Santa Clara, a Jesuit university in Silicon Valley. Although it’s a private school which does not offer prospective students full rides, she felt a connection with the school’s coaches and program. According to the Times, her versatility during her college years- when she was named All-American three times- formed her into the player she is today. “This resourcefulness comes from having played center back, attacking midfielder and forward in college at Santa Clara, where Coach Jerry Smith used her the way a baseball manager might use a trusted utility infielder,” they reported.
Ertz, whose maiden name is Johnston, found the academic aspect of college somewhat challenging, so focused more of her efforts on the field, which ultimately paid off. “It was my place that I felt in control,” she explained to the paper.
In 2012, while a college junior, she was added to the roster of the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team, representing the country that year in the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup. She was touched after the team’s coach, Steve Swanson, told Ertz her teammates had voted her as their captain. “I was speechless at first. I was really emotional, to have your teammates pick you as the captain, it’s pretty special,” said Johnston in a Santa Clara press release.
Besides excelling professionally during college, those years were also pivotal in her personal life. It was during that time where she attended a baseball game at Stanford University, and met Zach, who was a football star there.
She dished on the relationship’s beginning- which fittingly centered around their respective sports- to ESPN, saying:
We initially met at a baseball game at Stanford. We had mutual friends. After I won the U20 Women’s World Cup [in 2012], he sent a congrats [text] on our win. Then I watched a football game that he was in, and he scored this huge touchdown. I texted him, ‘Congratulations, so cool to see you doing well.” I guess a little bit of succeeding kindled our relationship!
4. She Went From Being Named Rookie of the Year in 2014 to Competing in the 2016 Olympics
In January of 2014, she was picked third overall in the first round of the 2014 NWSL College Draft by the Chicago Red Stars and named Rookie of the Year. Watch the highlight clip above, posted by the National Women’s Soccer League, of the Red Stars’ game against Houston last year, where Ertz scored her second goal of the season.
When asked what her favorite part about playing for the Red Stars is, she said in the clip below, “The team, for sure. We have such a fun team atmosphere and so many like inside jokes in such a small time. I feel like we became a family, really close. And I feel like that’s really important for us to do well.
Ertz was one of the 18 women who went to the Rio Olympics in 2016. In the quarterfinals, they lost to Sweden in penalty kicks. In advance of the Games, she was interviewed by W Magazine, who asked if she carries any good luck charms with her during competitions.
I have a cross necklace I always wear. It’s a part of me and it’s represents my faith. My fiancé gave it to me as my first gift and it represents strength and love to me.
5. As a Child, She Would Cry on the Soccer Field
“The most common question I ever get is, ‘What would you do if you weren’t a soccer player?’” she told US Soccer. “And I make up stuff every single time – it is not consistent, because I have never thought about not playing. I love it.”
The 5′ 7″ superstar started with soccer at age 4 and credits her parents for their sacrifices that shaped her into the player she is today. “We became a soccer family. We sacrificed a lot. My family drove an hour one way, an hour back,” she told She Knows.
“I didn’t grow up with a ton of money and club soccer was expensive, so they wanted to be sure that this was what I was focused on. And I was. Soccer was everything,” she told US Soccer.
The Johnstons are definitely a sports-centric family. Julie’s father, David, played football at Louisiana State and her older sister, Melanie, 25, was a member of the under-18 national team until she had to end her soccer career due to injury. “We started being really competitive from Day 1,” she told the Times. “My sister was always better. I hadn’t grown into my body yet. Once I grew taller than her — around 12 or so — I could finally get back at her for all the years she beat me.”
According to her mom, Christie Johnson, Julie had a bit of an emotional start with the sport, and was known to tear up on the field. In an interview with USA Today, she said:
You wouldn’t know this now because she’s so tough…We were on a team with a lot of nice moms and they were like, ‘Oh Julie, you’ll be OK.’ And her dad was like, ‘Don’t do that please. There’s no crying in soccer. If you’re going to cry in this sport, it’s not for you.’