Frustrated and maybe a bit embarrassed, Lauren Silberman fought back tears after kicking her way into NFL history.
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She became the first woman to try out at a regional combine Sunday, but she lasted all of two kicks, none of which traveled even 20 yards. The 28-year-old Silberman hurt her right quadriceps while preparing for the tryout earlier in the week, and attributed her struggles to that injury.
”I tried staying off it and waited for today,” she said. ”I didn’t even take kicks in warm-ups, and, it’s pretty hard to know that you’ll be in pain, and I wanted to work through it and I certainly tried to, but I just couldn’t do it today.”
While some fans on Twitter praised her for breaking through in a male-dominated sport, others wondered if this was just a publicity stunt. Regardless, the NFL got plenty of attention on a Sunday in March for one of its regional combines, something most media normally ignore.
”I’m just really happy I had this amazing experience,” Silberman said. ”I might be the first woman trying out for the NFL, but I certainly hope I’m not the last.”
With the 36 other kickers, all male, a handful of scouts and more than two dozen media watching in complete silence at the New York Jets’ practice facility, Silberman winced as she attempted her first kickoff and the ball traveled only 19 yards.
She grabbed at her right leg, and then struggled for about 20 seconds to place the football on the tee before measuring her steps and trying a second kick.
It went about 13 yards.
She then asked to see a trainer and left the practice field, and appeared to be favoring her right leg.
”They certainly didn’t go as far as they were in practices,” Silberman said, ”but I tried to work through the pain.”
She wouldn’t reveal how long her kicks were in the weeks leading up to the tryout.
”It’s still hard to exactly say, but I just got better day by day,” she said with a smile. ”The distance is getting there.”
Silberman is a former club soccer player at Wisconsin and ex-graduate student at MIT. While she never kicked a football in a competitive game, the NFL said Silberman qualified for the regional combine because of her athletic background.
”Our job is to evaluate talent and not leave any stone unturned,” said Stephen Austin, the NFL’s director of regional combines. ”We want young, athletic people who have played a sport, typically in college or military or small schools.”
The regional combines began in 2011, and include players who weren’t among the 333 invited to the main combine in Indianapolis. The NFL is holding these sessions in 10 cities this offseason, with the most impressive players advancing to a super-regional in Dallas in April.
Silberman paid a $275 registration fee and just needed to show up Sunday and take her best shot at impressing scouts.
”Until they get here, we don’t have any idea of what they’re really going to turn out to do and how they’re going to perform,” Austin said.
When asked if he could evaluate Silberman’s performance, Austin said: ”That evaluation is completely incomplete.”
Silberman, who spoke for just 3 minutes after the tryout, insisted she can ”do more” and ”it’s too bad that this happened.” She called the scene ”surreal,” adding that she ”did the right thing for my body” by not continuing and anticipates trying to kick again in the future, possibly at another regional combine next year.
”I’ve always been an athlete, and I’ve always been a gamer,” she said, her eyes tearing up. ”When I had the opportunity to be in the NFL, one of the world’s most competitive leagues, I absolutely had to take the chance.”
Silberman began her big day by waiting outside the facility around noon with all the other kickers, whose names were read off alphabetically as they entered the indoor practice field. Each participant was then given time to warm up before being broken into groups to attempt three kickoffs and then a set of five field goals, the first starting from 35 yards all the way up to 55 yards.
The 5-foot-6 Silberman, with her long brown hair pulled into a ponytail, jogged up and down the sideline during warm-ups, trying to get loose as photographers and camera crews from the likes of E! Entertainment network followed her every move.
By the time her group was called, nearly 3 hours after she arrived, Silberman, wearing a black T-shirt with her player tag No. 68 on the front and back and white socks pulled up to her knees, stretched her legs, did some push-ups and a few sit-ups. She then chatted a bit with Sonny Powell, another former soccer player from Charlotte, as she waited for her turn to kick.
”In talking to some of the other guys out here, I don’t think her being a girl had anything to do with it,” Powell said. ”We’re all playing for a job here and everybody’s nerves were going crazy.”
Silberman’s goal was to try a 60-yard field goal. That was squashed just minutes into her tryout.
”You know, the distance wasn’t there, but hopefully the scouts will notice my technique,” she said. ”It’s not always length.”
Silberman left the complex soon after that.
”I would certainly be very, very excited and happy if I had the opportunity to try again,” she said, ”but it’s not up to me. It’s up to the scouts.”