The Pride of Alamosa
Adams State University, a small Division II school isn’t known for its athletic department, however, it is known for being the school where Becca Longo kicks on the Grizzlies’ football team. But to arrive at Adams State, the school that would make NCAA history, we must first travel to the deserts of Arizona. Where the heat wilts anything under the sun, where the desert shows no mercy, and the sweltering heat makes only two kinds of people on the athletic fields: Winners and losers.
Field of Dreams
Becca stuck with more traditional sports from the start because everyone said she was fragile and would get crushed on the football field. She excelled at soccer using her powerful right leg to score goals and starred on the basketball court as a point guard with a smooth jump shot. But football — and those memories of watching her older brother play, hearing the crunching of pads during a collision and the bang of a kicker’s foot making contact with the ball — lingered in the back of her mind. They lay dormant but not forgotten, and it would be those exact memories that would shape her future and help her make history.
The Day That Changed It All
This raw motivation drover her to declare she was going to kick a different kind of ball. She would transition to a sport previously determined unsuitable for her, and for girls across America. She would kick a different kind of ball, but more importantly, she’d break boundaries and push the limits. She was going to be on the football team. She was going to be a three-sport athlete in the most non-traditional of ways. Becca Longo was going to be a star, something she already knew for a long time. Now, she made a public declaration to alert everyone else of her plans.
A Father’s Blessing
Dreams Becoming Reality
About a week after her declaration, Becca and her parents drove to Gilbert Christian High school, about 20 minutes from Queen Creek, to attend a kicking camp hosted by the Arizona Cardinals. Without much training, Becca dove head first into a sport she’d never played in a camp full of Arizona’s most impressive kickers. The camp was star-studded and featured numerous National Football League punters and kickers, closely watching the performances of Arizona’s best high school kickers. With all eyes on her, Becca came through. The pressure wasn’t too great and the circumstances weren’t too daunting. In fact, it’s that type of environment where Becca excels.
A Gridiron Guru
Seeing Is Believing
And before Zendejas officially agreed to work with Longo, he needed to see in person if she had the right blend of talent and drive. To dedicate his time and share his secrets of the trade, he needed to make sure she was worthy. Longo knew she would be, and the two would arrange a tryout to confirm the obvious. After a quick tryout, held on the football field after school, Zendejas knew. Her form was good, her poise was better. Her technique wasn’t there yet, but it wasn’t far off. And considering she had never played football, that was a promising sign. She would be a kicker, and if she stuck with it, through the ups and downs, she could be a star.
Making Her Case
Sophomore Year: 2014-15
Using the tools and skills she learned while training with Zendejas multiple times per week, Longo tried out for the junior varsity team at Queen Creek. She was poised and capable. Not intimidated by her status as the only girl trying out, Longo remembered her techniques. Follow through. Head down. Breathe. Little surprise here, and no surprise to Becca, she made it. And during her first season kicking footballs, Longo connected on 30 of 33 point-after-attempts and was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals. Her long was 30 yards. From the outside, Becca was the pleasant surprise of the season. A girl kicking on the football team with impressive accuracy. To her, it was expected, and anything less would have been a failure.
A Change Of Scenery
Change For The Better
Football is the ultimate meritocracy. If you’re good, you play. If you’re not, you don’t. For Becca Longo, this meritocracy still couldn’t dispel the rampant sexism and biases that continue in sports today. Although the bullying and tough days at Queen Creek would inevitably shape her and prepare her for life at large, where the real-world can be cold and unforgiving, Longo needed to make a change. Facing bullying and minimal respect from her peers, Longo decided to transfer to Basha High School, just 20 minutes down the road from Queen Creek. She took matters into her owns hands and decided to follow the path that was best for her. Her journey, at this point, was uncommon and nontraditional.
New School, New Life
Putting Up Numbers
When Becca made her long-awaited debut as Basha’s starting kicker, during her senior year in 2016, she was just as automatic as before, connecting on 35 of 38 extra points and nailing her only field goal of the season. It was as if she never left. She didn’t skip a beat and proved to players, fans, and coaches that she, a varsity kicker, belonged. The misses? They weren’t even her fault. They were blocked kicks, something she has no control over. As for her school, Becca fit right in and made an instant connection with both her classmates and teammates. No longer was she the girl kicker. She was just Becca, another kid on the roster trying to make the team better. The move to Basha, as they say in field goal terminology, was good.
The NCAA Takes Notice
Adams State Comes Calling
Female or not, Adams State needed a kicker, so Blankenship packed his bags and headed to Basha to watch Becca kick in person. Finding a consistent kicker is much harder than people think, and when a school can lock up a skilled recruit who loves his/her job, that means four years of consistency in extra points and field goals. Impressed with what he saw, he invited her to a tryout at Adams State, a permissible move at the Division II level. Once again, Longo would be performing at a tryout with all eyes focused on her and her right leg. All eyes would be watching her technique and poise. Again, she would have to impress the coaches just like she had done with Zendejas and her two high school teams.
Making The Grade
Impressing The Coach
At the tryout, with numbing temperatures and gusting winds, Becca remained unfazed, nailing 23 of her 25 field goal attempts. The wind, foreign atmosphere, and magnified pressure could not break her focus or alter her game. The special teams coaches were impressed. Head Coach Timm Rosenbach, a former NFL quarterback himself, who secretly viewed the tryout, was even more so. “I don’t care if the player’s a Martian…the gender part wasn’t really a factor to me,” Rosenbach told ESPN. Finally, it appeared, the meritocracy of sport was proving itself. At the college level nothing mattered but winning. Looks, backgrounds, economic statuses, or gender — none of it made a difference so long as you could produce and contribute to winning.
Extending An Offer
“I was so emotional. I was just so grateful that somebody believed in me and that I could actually do it,” Longo told CNN. Even though her numbers in high school were rock-solid, Becca didn’t receive the attention she deserved. She was a girl, and girls aren’t supposed to be on the field making plays. Girls aren’t supposed to steal the spotlight and dominate.
Perseverance Is Key
Ignoring The Doubters
“If they want to think that, they can think that,” Longo told ESPN regarding the daily insults hurled at her online by doubters and nonbelievers. “Then 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’s amazing to see Becca kicking down doors and for all of us who have been in the game, said former Arizona Cardinals interim assistant coach Jennifer Welter. “Every single one of us is pulling for her every single day.”
At Adams State University
Transition To College
At Adams State, Becca has seamlessly transitioned into the college life. Signed on to be a two-sport athlete (basketball and football), Longo is like everyone else on the gridiron. Unlike in high school, players on the football team do not view her as an outsider. They don’t view her as girl or a propaganda accessory. She’s just a player like everyone else, putting in the work trying to make the team better. No preferential treatment and no extra attention. Said senior quarterback Jorge Hernandez in an interview with ESPN, “She gets after it just like all of us. She’s not just here to be on the team. She’s here to play.”
Warm And Welcoming
A Clean Slate
While Becca redshirted her freshman year, her sophomore year is a clean slate. She’s put in the work and is ready to kick when her name is called. Currently, Longo and fellow kicker Erick Ruiz are engaged in a weekly kicking battle to determine who gets the start. Equal playing field at its finest. Although not slated to start the first week, Longo remains optimistic. She knows she belongs and it will only be a matter of time until her name gets called. And when it does, she will trot out to the field a historic figure in her own right. She’ll be the female athlete that future generations look up to for inspiration and motivation.
When the time comes for Longo to boot her first collegiate kick for Adams State, it’ll be an NCAA first. It’ll be like a moon landing or discovery of the South Pole. Monumental for all of those who witness it and for those who hear about it years, even decades, later. She won’t be the first woman to score at the Division I FBS level. That belongs to Katie Hnida. Hnida originally started at the University of Colorado and transferred to the University of New Mexico where she’d set the record by kicking a PAT in a blowout victory in 2003.
What Becca Longo will be is the first female on an athletic scholarship to take the field as a football player. She will be the first female to get her education for free thanks to a football scholarship. Even though Becca understands the magnitude of her historic feat, she can’t let it get to her head. She has a job to do, a job she must do well in order to live up to the hype and attention she’s garnered. Despite others scoring before her, none have done so as a player specifically recruited to play football. The others were walk-ons, invited to try out for the team, but not specifically recruited for it. Only time will tell how successful Becca will be, but there’s already a big ripple effect stemming from her improbable journey.
An Inspiration For Millions
Waiting Her Turn
So far, through three games in Sept, 2018, Adams State University went 1-2, with Longo not appearing in any action. But she’s not just there just for looks or for positive publicity. She’s definitely not there to keep the bench warm. She will get into a game and, eventually, establish herself as the team’s primary kicker. When her first kick does in fact sail through the big yellow uprights, Longo and millions of others will celeb’rate the triumph. She’s extremely popular on social media and is closely followed by fans around the world. The tale of Becca Longo is just getting started, and wherever it ends, it’ll be a fascinating journey that changed the lives of millions of young girls.