by Cherie Reich
"I can kick better than that," I told my best friend Theresa at the Wyderly College's first football game.
"Then, why don't you join the team, Autumn?"
I sat in the stands and watched the football practice. Theresa's words came back to haunt me, and they were the reason I was here. I was going to join the team. Yet, I didn't know how to approach the coach. As far as I knew, no girl had played football here, and being the first at anything was a daunting task.
I've played soccer all my life; well, since I was five. I was on a co-ed boys team for years until Riverwood created a girls' team. I played football with my two older brothers and their friends. I had experience.
I remained rooted in my spot.
"Excuse me, excuse me, Miss. This is a closed practice. Run along now." The assistant coach noticed me and walked over.
Now was my chance. I opened my mouth and spoke, "Oh, sorry. I didn't know. I'll leave." I picked up my messenger bag and left the stands.
I had walked out of the football stadium until I realized what I was doing. I was a coward. A stupid fool.
How was I going to make the team if I didn't speak up?
A week and another dreadful football game went by. Wyderly Bagpipes lost by one point. One stinking point because the kicker missed the field goal in the last fifteen seconds of the game. It was only a thirty-six yard field goal. I could have done it in my sleep.
Running my fingers through my passion purple hair, I trudged across the campus. The trees were sprinkled with reds, oranges, and golds. I breathed in the slightly crisp autumn air.
A football rolled and landed at my feet. Bending over, I picked it up and came face to face with Bradley Bishop, quarterback to the Bagpipes. "Hi," I said, staring up at him. Everyone knew who he was, but it was the first time I got a good look at him. His black hair appeared windswept. His nose was slightly crooked, and I guessed he broke it at some point. His eyes were blue.
He grinned at me and held out his hand. "Hi. Thanks for getting the ball." I didn't move to hand it back to him, and his smile faltered. "Did we have a history class together?"
"Maybe." Now was my chance. I could tell him I wanted to try out for kicker. My tongue felt thick and slow.
"Um, the ball." His patience grew thin.
"You need a new kicker." The words ran together as they poured out of my mouth.
I took a deep breath. "The team needs a new kicker."
He chuckled and leaned closer to me. I smelled a hint of cologne mixed with sweat. "You're telling me, but what can you do?"
"I could play." I handed him the football.
He stared at me up and down, and I stretched a bit taller than my five foot frame would allow.
"No offense, but you'd get killed out there."
"I'm good. I play for the soccer team here in the spring." I saw I wasn't getting anywhere with him. "Let me try out."
"I don't think it'll work out. Sorry." He shrugged, tossed the football to his friends, and jogged back over to them without giving me another glance.
His nonchalance stung me, and I kicked at the sidewalk. I would make the team. They would all see!
I began stalking the football stadium. I tried to be inconspicuous about it, but it's hard when you have purple hair. Several times Bradley looked over to me, but the players never spoke to me. I was a joke.
Still, I waited. Sometime the ball was going to have to come to where I was, and I would kick it back to them. They would see.
Meanwhile, the football season was turning into a disaster for the Bagpipes. They hadn't won a single game, and the homecoming game was coming up in one week from Saturday. Their team was a disaster.
I sat outside the fence and scribbled down my calculus homework. A cool breeze rustled nearby trees, and leaves floated around me. A crisp brown leaf fell on my hair, and I brushed it away. I was on question twenty-nine when the ball landed on my book. Jumping to my feet, I cradled the ball in my arms like a baby. Here was my chance.
"A little help?" Bradley held out his hand for me to throw the ball.
"Sure." I took five steps away from the fence, held the football in front of me, and punted it. It sailed high over the fence. For a moment, the sun's golden rays blocked the ball, and then gravity took over, and it fell to the ground more than sixty yards away from where I was standing.
Every single player and coach turned to look at me. Their jaws hung open like dead fish on display.
I smiled, waved, and walked away. Take that!
Saturday rolled along, and the Wyderly Bagpipes fell short of the mark. One again, they lost.
On Monday morning, Bradley ran after me in the courtyard. I heard him calling my name, and I smiled, but I walked on a bit before turning. "Oh, hi, Bradley."
"There you are." He huffed, nearly out of breath from sprinting to catch up with me. "I've been looking for you everywhere!" He breathed deeply. "We want you on the team…on a trial basis. We'll try not to get you killed."
I laughed. "And, what makes you think I want to be on the team?"
"Oh, come on, Autumn. Don't make me beg." Bradley's eyes pleaded with me.
A part of me wanted to make him beg, but I didn't want to miss out on my chance to prove myself. "I'll do it!"
The homecoming football game began at noon. I stood on the sidelines in my heavy football outfit and watched the opposing team. The Wildcats towered over most of the Bagpipes' players, and I was a small ant compared to them. If they hit me, I would likely be killed. I gulped and wondered if being the kicker was such a good idea.
"Nervous?" Bradley asked when he came over to me.
"A little." I winced at how high and whiney my voice sounded.
He patted my padded shoulder. "Don't worry, Autumn. We got your back. They won't touch you."
I could only nod.
At the coin toss, Wyderly was the receiving team. I didn't have to play yet. Kicking the ball repeatedly into the net, I practiced along the sidelines. The first quarter went by. The score: Bagpipes 0, Wildcats 3.
The second quarter came around, and the Wildcats got a touchdown, but their kicker missed the extra point. 9 to 0.
Halftime came, and I still hadn't stepped out onto the Astroturf to kick the ball. Yet, all of that was to change at the beginning of the third quarter when I had to do the kick-off.
I trembled in my cleats while walking onto the field. The crowds sounded like bees buzzing in my ear. I could hear them, but lost their words.
My teammate positioned the ball, and I stepped back from it. The other team appeared as giants before me. Everything happened so quickly. I ran towards the ball, and I could hear and feel the football players thundering towards me. My foot struck it, and the ball soared in the air. Up, up, and up. I waited for someone to crash into me, but they didn't. The Wildcats got the ball, and the Bagpipes stopped them.
A sigh of relief left me as I walked weak-kneed to the sidelines.
"Great job, Smith." The coach patted me on the helmet.
I felt more confident now until the defense intercepted the ball and ran it for a touchdown. I was back on the field again. This point would put up 9-7, the Wildcats still winning.
Bradley held the ball. "Don't worry, Autumn. You're a world better than our other kicker."
I smiled at his compliment, ran to the ball, and kicked it between the uprights. Nine to seven. Three more points and we would be in the lead.
The fourth quarter came around, and the score remained the same. Anxiousness fell over us as the time wound down.
The referees gave the two-minute warning. The Bagpipes finished their third down and were forty-six yards from the field goal.
"Smith, you're up." Coach motioned for me to get out there.
"Yep. Go out there."
I put on my helmet and ran out. In practice, I had made the kick from forty yards out. A player had to add the touchdown area too.
We set up the play. The ball was down. The Wildcats roared towards me. I ran.
I kicked the ball, and then felt a rush of wind at my side. Lennings had squashed the Wildcats player from smashing into me.
I couldn't look.
Cheers erupted on the Bagpipes' side, and a player lifted me up in the air.
I peered at the score. Bagpipes 10, Wildcats 9.
Time ran down. The Bagpipes intercepted the ball once more.