Amanda DeLaFosse is just one of the guys. She never tires of watching "Varsity Blues," and when a pretty girl walks by, her friends pass comments as if they expect her to join in at any time.
While not everyone thinks of her that way — "My mom says I run like a girl," DeLaFosse admitted — this year the 17-year-old became the first girl to play varsity football in the Katy Independent School District, which has won four state championships. In Texas, girls suiting up isn't unheard of, but it isn't exactly smiled upon either. Last year in the state, 388 females (1,173 nationwide) played 11-person high school football, compared to the 159,250 boys (over a million in the U.S.) who took the field.
In some ways, DeLaFosse was preparing to help break down that barrier her entire life. She had an athletic upbringing, playing tackle football with her two older brothers on their front lawn and watching Texas A&M games on TV. But that was the extent of her early gridiron career. At age 5, she fell in love with soccer, and her passion for the sport later helped her beat out four guys in kicker tryouts at Mayde Creek High School.
"She was just better than anybody else," said the team's coach, Joe Sheffy, 51.
Having DeLaFosse try out was actually his idea. The coach saw the young athlete brave his traditionally all-male training camp every summer and caught her toying with the football on a few occasions. One day, he asked her if she'd consider kicking for the team, but she declined, saying that she needed to focus on soccer. By her junior year, she reconsidered and asked if she could kick mid-season. This time, Sheffy refused because she hadn't sweat through spring training like the rest of the players, but he said that she could try out the next year.
"I was thinking, 'That's just a whim. She won't be back,' " he recalled.
Between semesters, DeLaFosse recruited her brother to help her practice. A college football kicker, Taylor DeLaFosse spent his winter break holding a football in place while his sister perfected her craft. By the spring, she was ready to play.
But the rest of the school wasn't ready for her. Rumors about DeLaFosse's sexual orientation whirred around the halls even though it was known that she was dating wide receiver Garrett Wilson and her ex-beau was Mark Neal — the school's only male cheerleader.
"We were talking, and it was like we switched places. Because whenever I was younger, I was real athletic, played all kinds of sports and now I'm a cheerleader," Neal said. "She was girlie, and now she's a football player."
Others wondered if she was any good at all or if this was just a publicity stunt. DeLaFosse ignored the criticism and silenced the naysayers when she kicked the winning point in the spring scrimmage.
"Some of the coaches said, 'Well, what if she misses? It'll destroy her!' I said, 'Well, we've got to find out now.' She went out and she kicked it. She proved that she could play," said Sheffy.
When the fall season began, few outside of Mayde Creek knew of DeLaFosse. Sheffy purposely did not tell any of the sports writers — out of fear that an opposing team would take a cheap shot at his female kicker — and she kept her hair in a bun. But fans started to notice that she ran off the field immediately after kickoff instead of serving as the last line of defense. Once on the sidelines, she took off her helmet, and callers rang into their local radio stations, grumbling that if she wanted to play football, that she should play football and stay on the field.
"My response to them was, 'Well, what if it was your daughter?' Any time you do that, then all of a sudden, it's kind of thrown back in their face, and they can kind of see my point," said Sheffy. "Most of the time, anyway, it's a guy — a soccer kid — that kicks off; they're not very good tacklers. We weren't losing anything."
Actually, the team gained 21 extra points and two field goals. DeLaFosse finished the season with a nearly perfect record and proved that girls could compete against guys in football — even in the gridiron state of Texas.
"They didn't really understand why I would want to be playing a boys' sport," DeLaFosse said. "But it was for the team. I really do enjoy football."
DeLaFosse will graduate this spring and continue her soccer career at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately for DeLaFosse, the school does not have a football team.