Adams State female football kicker eager to make her mark

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              FILE - This undated photo provided by Adams State University shows place kicker Rebecca Longo (45) practicing in Alamosa, Colo. The field goal kicker from Adams State thought about her upper-most range for a moment. On the field, at least 54 yards, which is how far she connected on one during practice. In the arena of opening doors for other female football players, she hopes it’s endless. Rebecca "Becca" Longo became one of the first females to receive a football scholarship a season ago. (Adams State University via AP)
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DENVER (AP) — The field goal kicker from Adams State thought about her range for a moment.

On the field, it’s at least 54 yards, which is how far she connected on one during practice. In the arena of opening doors for other female football players, she hopes it’s endless.

Rebecca “Becca” Longo became one of the first females to receive a partial football scholarship a season ago. Given all the media attention surrounding her, the team elected to redshirt her.

This season, the 19-year-old remains in the running to be the starting kicker for the Division II Grizzlies, who open the season this weekend at Colorado School of Mines.

Longo’s already heard from former Colorado/New Mexico kicker Katie Hnida as well as Jennifer Welter, who served as an intern assistant coach with the Arizona Cardinals.

Like them, she wants to break through the gridiron glass ceiling. Like them, she wants to be a trendsetter.

“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,” Longo said in a phone interview from Alamosa, which is about 235 miles southwest of Denver. “I don’t know how many people told me I couldn’t play football and I should stop and give up. 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.”

She’s a multi-sport athlete at Adams State, joining the basketball team last season and planning to give lacrosse a try this season.

Of course, football is her main priority. As a redshirt last season, she spent the time honing her skills. And while she connected on a 54-yarder in practice, she’s known for her accuracy — nailing 40-to-45-yarders over and over again.

Since Day 1, she’s felt accepted by her teammates, calling them a “big family .”

Around campus, she feels nothing but support.

“Last year, everybody was really super excited to see me kick,” said Longo, whose dorm room is decorated with sea shells and beach-themed art work she painted. “I’m hoping that’s the same energy this year.”

Her acceptance? It’s no surprise to Welter, who runs a gridiron girls camp that’s been conducted in 15 cities over the last 11 months.

“Game recognizes game. She got there because she can kick,” Welter said. “That’s the beauty of football. It’s the ultimate meritocracy — if you can play, we want you.”

Longo already has a plan in place for when she makes her first kick: Sprint after the ball, tuck it under her jersey and hand it to a friend on the sideline, who will run it to the team bus.

It will have to wait a week with fellow kicker Erick Ruiz getting the start at Mines. The job, though, is based on a week-to-week competition and subject to change.

She’s tight with Ruiz and punter John Bowers. The three amigos make dinner and have movie night all the time. The other day, the menu was chicken parmesan with a horror film. It’s usually a horror film.

“They’ve accepted me for me,” said Longo, who moved from Riverside, California, to Arizona when she was around 9. “We’re all really close. Once you step off the field, everybody is a best friend.”

Longo ventured into football as a sophomore in high school. A soccer player, she was looking for another challenge. Her first kick in a junior varsity game was good, even if she can’t remember it.

“Blacked out,” she said of her excitement . “But there’s video of it.”

On game days, she proudly wore her football jersey around the halls of school.

The teasing started.

“They’d post pictures on the internet and say, ‘Is that her jersey or her boyfriend’s?'” she recounted. “I got laughed at the entire year. They were cool and I wasn’t.”

Longo ended up transferring to Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, and sat out her junior year. As a senior, she made 35-of-38 extra points and her only field-goal attempt — a 30-yarder.

She reached out to Adams State and was eventually offered a partial scholarship. She accepted.

Then, the media frenzy started, which included an appearance on “Good Morning America.” She’s been heralded as a pioneer and a role model.

“It’s always flattering to have people look up to you,” she said. “But it’s also scary, because what if you mess up?”

She’s had plenty of former female players reach out. Like Hnida, who attended Colorado before transferring to New Mexico. On Aug. 30, 2003, Hnida kicked two extra points for the Lobos against Texas State. Her shoes and uniform are in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Welter chatted with her as well. Welter was a running back for the Texas Revolution — a professional indoor football team — and later served as the team’s linebackers/special teams coach. In 2015, she made history by becoming an assistant coaching intern for the Cardinals for training camp and into the preseason.

“It’s amazing to see Becca kicking down doors and for all of us who have been in the game. 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,” Welter said. “Every single one of us is pulling for her every single day.”

When Longo steps between the lines, she’s not Longo the female football player. She’s simply Longo the kicker.

“I’ve done this for so long, so when I’m on the field, I am one of the guys, because that’s how they treat me,” Longo said. “But sometimes, I’ll walk on the field by myself and think, ‘I’m playing college football. How crazy is that.'”