Becca Longo, 18, plans to bring beach sand with her to Adams State University this summer, when she starts practicing with the men’s football team.
The newly recruited kicker, believed to be the first woman to accept an NCAA scholarship and sign a National Letter of Intent for football, grew up under the sun in California and Arizona and isn’t looking forward to the frigid temperatures that settle in the San Luis Valley during football season.
“It’s cooold!” she laughed.
Despite the chilly fall climate, Longo said she is excited about her future and hopeful she’ll win the role of starting kicker when she competes against other recruits.
“If there is any pressure, I love it,” she said. “I love pressure. I thrive in it. I’m that person that if we’re on fourth down and coach is thinking about going for it, I’m jumping on the sidelines hoping he’s putting me in.”
Longo first learned girls could play football on a boys’ team when she was a child. She admired another girl on her brother’s high school team, Heidi Garrett, who once kicked a 48-yard field goal during a game.
According to the most recent statistics collected by the National Federation of State High School Associations, 1,964 girls participated in 11-player high school football during the 2015-2016 school year.
In the late 1990s, Colorado's Katie Hnida played high school football and became a walk-on kicker at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She later was the first woman to score points in a Division I football game at the University of New Mexico.
There have been several other women who played football in college, according to the NCAA. Since 2011, there has been one female student-athlete at a Division I school and eight at Division III schools, according to Meghan Durham, a spokeswoman.
The data may not be perfect, according to Durham, who said there were no females reported at Division II schools in that span.
Since learning she may be the first woman in history to win a football scholarship at a Division II school, Longo has fielded dozens of phone calls from media outlets from around the country. She has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, and ESPN.
“To be getting this kind of attention, I feel like I am having my story heard. I’m letting people know that you can do anything that you put your mind to,” said Longo, who also received a basketball scholarship to play on the women’s team at Adams State.
University officials who are familiar with Adams State’s slogan, Great Stories Begin Here, are relishing the attention too.
“There’s an opportunity for her to have a great story,” said Larry Mortensen, the school’s athletic director. “It’s already happened!”
Mortensen, who said he never realized adding Longo to the football roster would be groundbreaking, described the newfound media interest as overwhelming but positive.
“It’ll probably put a few more butts in the seats when it comes to football, which is good,” he said.
Timm Rosenbach, the Adams State head football coach, said Longo first caught his eye when she followed him on Twitter. Eventually, he scanned through a series of kicking videos she posted of herself online.
She scored thirty-six points during her senior year at Basha High School in Chandler, Ariz.
“She put herself out there,” he said. “You know if somebody does that, that’s kind of saying something about them as a person – if they’re determined to do something.”
Rosenbach, a former NFL quarterback who has two young daughters, said he did not consider Longo’s gender and the historic meaning of his offer when he gave her an opportunity to join his team.
“I was looking at her more as a football player,” he said.
One of his own daughters recently told him she aspired to be the quarterback at Stanford. Both of his children now consider Longo one of their favorite players, he said.
“I think it’s great for young women all over the place. I mean I don’t know why more people don’t attempt to do this,” Rosenbach said.
Longo said she is now inspired by many young girls who are looking to her as a role model. She said she knows they are watching her, so she feels compelled to become a better person.
“I’m just trying to get people to do what they love,” said Longo. “I’m trying to set an example, be a role model in a sense, for a bunch of people out there thinking that they can’t do something and showing them that anything is possible.”
It may even be possible for a beach-loving football player to get used to the cold if she finds success on the field.