Adams State’s Own
Becca Longo has for years proved that gender norms can be challenged, even in football. In 2017, she made history by being the first woman to break a critical glass ceiling, signaling a greater acceptance of female players in football. Becca currently lives in Alamosa, CO., a small town of 10,000 people located about four hours south of Denver, where she plays for Adams State University. However, the journey to where she is today wasn’t easy. How did she get there?
It Runs In The Family
Sports have been part of Becca’s life since the very beginning. She was born in 1999 to a family of athletes and took after her other family members by displaying a natural knack for sports. By the age of four, for example, she was on water skis. By the age of nine, she was kicking soccer balls accurately in goals. Her natural athleticism, coupled with the supportive atmosphere she was raised in, nurtured her development as a sportswoman.
One of her greatest inspirations is her brother, Bobby. He is 11 years older than Becca and she has looked up to him as a role model since she was a little girl. As she was growing up, she tried to be just like him, or even be better. One thing that stood in her way of outdoing him, however, was that he was a linebacker for his school’s football team. Due to the sport being physically demanding, it’s usually classified as a boys’ sport.
One Day In 2004
However, there was a girl on the team! Becca witnessed young Heidi Garrett hit a 48-yard field goal in 2004, which is a national record for longest field goal kicked by a woman in high school. As Becca watched Heidi at the party at the end of the season, she knew she had found her role model. She wanted to be just like her, but he was still little and football wasn’t an option for her age. In time she would prove herself, though.
Same Old Mindset
For years, Becca excelled in traditionally women’s sports, setting aside her fond memories of football pads smashing together, the dull thunk of the football being kicked into the end zone, and the electrifying energy on the football field. She played as a point guard in basketball, while her strong right leg made her a force to be reckoned with in soccer. Despite this, the more physical, more dangerous sport of football was calling her, even if she didn’t know it yet.
A Different Kind Of Ball/post_page_title]
At the end of her Freshman year at Queen Creek, Becca was walking home with a friend and saw the school’s football team practicing. She noticed that not one of the players on the field was a girl, which frustrated her. Anything a boy can do, she could do, too. She decided she was going to do something about it. She immediately told her friend that she intended to kick a different ball. That night, she informed her father that she intended to kick for Queen Creek.
[sc name="default_top_ad" ][post_page_title]A Supportive Father
When her father heard, he voiced no question or concern. He knew his daughter, a natural athlete, wasn’t just competitive, she was extraordinarily so. It made perfect sense for her to take up a challenge that would seem impossible to others, such as a girl playing football. When asked to recall what motivated her to challenge these stereotypes, Becca later told ESPN: “I think it’s just something inside of me. I don’t always have to prove myself — but I always want to.”
Dream Come True
When Bob Longo knew this about his daughter, so when he heard Becca say she wanted to play football, he recalled Heidi and her father, Rance, practicing on the field for hours, spending quality time together. Bob said, “I always envied them. They had a great father-daughter relationship. I hoped that one day I’d have the same connection with Becca.” As it turned out, his wish had come true and he would have the same connection.
For young girls looking up to her for inspiration, Longo said, “I just want to let people know that you can do whatever you want. As cliche as it sounds, nothing is impossible. I had a little girl the other day, her name is Kennedy, who lives up in Kentucky, do a wax museum of me … my jersey and full pads, find it on my Instagram. I cried. That’s the impact that I’ve always wanted to have on people That I can do it, it’s insane.”
A week later, Becca’s parents took her to a kicking camp hosted by the Arizona Cardinals at Gilbert Christian High School some 20 minutes away. Some NFL players even showed up to watch the next generation of kickers. No stranger to pressure, Becca impressed those watching her, despite never having kicked field goals before. Former players approached her after the camp to offer to train her, but she and her father wanted to work with former University of Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas, who runs a kicking academy in Phoenix that has taught seven Arizona All-State kickers.
Not So Encouraging, But Not Negative
Zendejas only needed to see her once to know she had the potential to be a future star. The talent was there, all she needed was to stick to it. The next day, Paul Reynolds, Queen Creek’s athletics director, got a visit from Becca, who told him she wanted to play football. Reynolds laughed and said, “I guess you should go for it and try out for the team.” Not the most encouraging message, but definitely not a negative one. Moreover, the director’s laugh motivated her.
Becca passed tryouts and made it into Queen Creek’s Junior Varsity team for her Sophomore year in high school. During her first season, she made 30 out of 33 extra point kicks after the team scored and went four for four on field goals, her longest being 30 yards. Unfortunately, she still stood out even with a helmet on, which isn’t always the best thing in high school. When she wasn’t playing football, bullies saw her as a target, just because she was different.
Dealing With Bullies
On the field, she was a star, but intramural sports aren’t the only thing in high school. Kids in this age group are especially prone to picking on those who stick out for being different, which is what happened when they saw a girl playing football — even if she was a good kicker and one of the best players on the team. “They’d post pictures on the internet and say, ‘Is that her jersey or her boyfriend’s?'” Longo told the media. “I got laughed at the entire year.”
Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” Friedrich Nietzsche once said, and the experience taught Becca just this. She became a more well-rounded person thanks to her experiences in Queen Creek. That being said, she knew that she needed a change because the environment she was in was unsupportive of her dream. She took matters in her own hands and decided to transfer to a school 20 minutes down the road that is called Bash High School.
Honing Her Skills
Becca felt right at home in her new school and was thrilled to begin playing for them. Unfortunately, due to transfer bylaws, she was not allowed to play for her Junior year. This wasn’t ideal for the up-and-coming kicker, but she was patient. She worked hard, honing her kicking skills as part of the team and waiting for the opportunity to come for her to prove how good of a kicker she was, regardless of whether she was a boy or a girl.
By her Senior year, Becca’s hard work paid off, as she started as Bash High’s kicker. After a year on the sidelines, she was finally ready to prove herself as a player. For the 2016 season, Becca got in 35 out of 38 free points, with the missed being blocked kicks that are out of the kicker’s control. She proved to everyone that she belonged there by excelling. She was Becca Longo, an integral part of the team who was doing outstanding work as a kicker for her high school.
Attention From Scouts
Regional college sports recruiters began taking notice of her. Granted, she wasn’t predicted to be the next Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens, but she was good and had proved that she could rise above challenges others wouldn’t even face. She and her father made a video of highlights from her two years kicking that attracted the attention of Josh Blankenship, Adams State’s offensive coordinator. Blankenship invited her up to Adams State, a Division II school, for a tryout that she aced, sinking in 23 of 25 field goal attempts.
After her impressive display of raw talent, Adams State offered Becca a scholarship. She later told CNN: “I was completely shocked. Everybody who has it on video said my jaw dropped to the floor.” Women had challenged gender stereotypes in football long before her and kicked in field goals, yet this was different. Believe it or not, this was actually the first time in NCAA history that a female player was offered an athletic scholarship for football on the Divison II or I levels.
Impressing The Coach
Timm Rosenbach, at the time Adams State’s head coach, was secretly watching Becca’s tryout and was extremely impressed with her braving the freezing cold and the ferocious wind. “She’s kind of put herself out there to let everyone know she wants to do this,” Rosenbach said. “If she’s able to compete at a level we think she’s able to compete at, we should afford her that opportunity to do that.” He later told ESPN, “I don’t care if the player’s a Martian…the gender part wasn’t really a factor to me.”
“Becca Can Play, Simple As That”
Rosenbach, a former NFL quarterback before he became a coach, sums up his football philosophy as follows: “If you can play football and you have determination, I don’t care what your gender is. And Becca can play, simple as that. She’s got accuracy and she’s got a powerful leg, which will only get stronger. We brought her to Adams State for a reason: to compete for a job and help us win football games.”
Pereverence Pays Off
“I don’t know how many people told me I couldn’t play football and I should stop and give up,” Longo told the Associated Press earlier in 2018. “I look at where they’re at now and where I’m at. I mean, had I listened to them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I get a lot of messages asking for advice and I say the same thing: ‘Don’t stop because somebody tells you you’re not qualified or you can’t do something.'”
One Of The Team
Coach Rosenbach summarized to Bleacher Reports that “Becca is a football player. That’s it.” Indeed, that is the exact message he told his team when she joined. “You will treat her like any other teammate and welcome her on to our team.” Becca soon proved herself, telling USA Today that “Everybody was just so warm and welcoming. Quarterback Jorge Hernandez said, “She gets after it just like all of us. She’s not just here to be on the team. She’s here to play.”
Welcomed With Open Arms
When she arrived, however, Longo was happy to see that any misgivings she had about being accepted were unfounded, as she was welcomed by the rest of the team as one of their own. “I was basically their sister. And I love them to death and I’m never going to forget them. They’re my brothers,” said Longo. “They are the ones who lifted me up when I was down. I had all their support in me.”
Haters Gonna Hate
Despite the show of support among the team, Longo is no stranger to being criticized by online trolls and bullies, having endured it for years. When asked about the online jeers and insults she receives, she told ESPN, “If they want to think that, they can think that. I’m just going to kick a game-winning, 55-yard field goal … see how loud they are then. I’ve been doubted in everything I’ve done. Being mentally strong is the only defensive mechanism I have.”
It is thanks to her positive attitude that Becca has gotten so far. Instead of letting the naysayers influence her negatively, she focuses all her energy on improving. She reaped the fruits of her hard work when she accepted an athletic scholarship to a Division II school, the first time in history that a woman had been selected for one. Although she is a trailblazer, she is not the first woman to break the mold and challenge gender discrimination in football.
Standing On Shoulders
The first time Becca kicks off, she will be following in the footsteps of pioneering trailblazers that came before her. The first woman to score at the Division I FBS level was Katie Hnida in 2003. The first woman to score in Division I in general was Ashley Martin in 2001, who is pictured here on the right, in the middle. That being said, Becca represents a new era, when we will expect to see many more women on the football field.
It seems, though, that one of the firsts in modern times belongs to Liz Heaston, who was the first woman to score in a college football game in 1997. She played soccer and was a star player for Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. As far as her football career goes, she was a replacement kicker for the team. She kicked two points in a game against Linfield College, which they won 29-0. This attracted the media and, in turn, her interviews exposed her to the broader population.
Inspiration To Girls Everywhere
Becca Longo isn’t just part of some public relations campaign undertaken by her school by letting a woman walk on the field and kick a field goal; she was selected specifically for her talent, inspiring girls everywhere. Her message for aspiring girl athletes is clear, as she told ABC’s Good Morning America: “If they want to play football, go out and play football. If they want to play hockey, they can go out and play hockey.”
Nods From Other Trailblazers
Jennifer Welter, a former indoor football player who was the first woman to intern as an assistant coach for the Cardinals, praised the young athlete. “It’s amazing to see Becca kicking down doors and for all of us who have been in the game,” she said. “We walk a little taller, we definitely clap a lot louder, scream a lot louder, knowing that she has this world and so does every other girl coming after her. Every single one of us is pulling for her every single day.”
Minor Setback Before Triumphant Return
Unfortunately, we will need to wait before seeing Becca Longo break barriers by kicking for the first time in a game. An unexpected injury is causing her to miss much of the 2018 season. Instead of her cleats, she was seen on the sidelines wearing an orthopedic brace boot. However, if her previous history of coping with setbacks tells us anything, she will come back even stronger than before. Before we know it, she’ll be getting her big break on game day.
Injuries take time, and she needed surgery last year to get better. Earlier in January, she posted on Instagram about her improvement. “10 weeks post-surgery and you can definitely tell which ankle was injured,” she wrote. “I am ahead of schedule though that is for sure! Ran today for the first time since September and let me tell ya.. my lungs hurt!! I just want my muscle back alreadyyyyyy! Sorry guys no box jumps for a while.” Only a few weeks later, doctors cleared her to kick.
Even though Longo remains positive, there’s a lot of work to do before she’s 100%. “I tore some tendons in my ankle,” she said. “My plant foot. I went to go plant in the ground and my foot kept going and it just kind of snapped… I tried kicking again but I was not having it.” Unfortunately for the brave Longo, she will need to wait until the 2019 season to compete again. The good news, though, is that it’s right on the horizon!