Other than gender, high school football kickers Molly Wissman and Jazzi Gonzales of Santa Fe High, and Milena Keene of St. Michael’s have a couple of other things in common: They all play soccer and they all struggled the first time they put on their uniforms.
“It was little difficult to put them on in the first place,” said Keene, especially the pads.
Her Horsemen teammates “watched me struggle. They laughed at me. It was a little hard to get them on in the proper place, but once they’re on, it’s not that big of a deal. It makes you feel more powerful. A little more bulky.”
Gonzales and Wissman had to overcome some misunderstood directions from their coaches.
“It was a struggle, for sure,” Wissman said with a chuckle. “It was an embarrassing moment because coach told us to put the jersey on first then the pads. … What he meant was put the jersey on the pads first.”
The laughter from both locker rooms was goodnatured and the girls have been readily accepted by their teammates as integral parts of the squad.
“They’re all super supportive,” Wissman said. “They all tell me and Jazzy good job and slap our helmets after practice. They all respect us a lot. … They all treat us like little sisters. They’re protective because they don’t want us to get tackled.”
Gonzales actually had a chance to make a tackle on a kickoff, but hesitated just a moment too long.
“Prior to the kickoff, the coaches told me if one of the players does come near you, there’s no pressure to tackle him, or try to tackle him,” she recalled. “That was in the back of my mind, so I hesitated quite a bit. But my competitive instincts took over and I thought I can’t just do nothing so, at the last second, I decided to go for him. I ended up pushing him out of bounds, but the refs didn’t see it, so it was a touchdown. I was little nervous, but I wasn’t afraid to tackle him … that hesitation threw me off.”
The Demons have struggled in the kicking game for some time, coach Andrew Martinez said. And when overtures to the boys soccer team went unheeded, they turned to the girls team for help.
The response was overwhelming, he said, with more than half the girls varsity squad showing up for a tryout. They whittled it down to four, then narrowed it to Gonzales and Wissman, who so far have shared kickoff and extra point duties.
The team has not tried a field goal yet, but Martinez said they both seem to have range out to about 45 yards.
“They’re pretty good at what they do,” he said. “I have total confidence in them. They’re going to be in a spot where they can make a big difference in a ball game and I fully trust them.”
Wissman, a goalkeeper in soccer, said the first time she hit an extra point on the football field was particularly rewarding.
“I had been building up so much emotion and I was really nervous, my heart was beating so fast, but I was still super excited,” she said. “I felt confident and ready, but I was nervous. I made it. It was an amazing feeling, to be honest. I’m a goalkeeper for soccer, so I never score. It was an awesome feeling.”
Keene of the Horsemen said she’s been talking about kicking for her school for some time and when coach Joey Fernandez saw her kicking the ball around this spring, he decided to take a chance on her.
“She wanted to try it and felt like she could do it, and asked me if she could come out when we started,” he said. “I saw her kicking a little bit during the spring. I noticed she was kicking pretty accurately. She was kicking it from 35 to 45 yards. She was pretty accurate. And she would have the distance. I told her I would give her a shot.”
Keene said the opportunity fulfilled a longtime desire.
“I come from a football family and I’m the only child,” she said. “It just happened and it was always something I always wanted to do. I wanted to do it for my dad. He got a football player for my senior year.”