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Becca Longo is smashing through a glass ceiling in a sport long dominated only by men.
The 18-year-old kicker is believed to be the first female to receive a football scholarship to a Division II school or higher, sealing the deal with a signing ceremony last week at Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona.
“My jaw dropped. I was just shocked,” Longo told TODAY, upon hearing that she had made history when she signed to play at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, about 600 miles away from home.
As ESPN pointed out, while there have been about a dozen women who have played college football, none were on an NCAA scholarship.
Longo has wanted to play football since she was a little girl. She loved watching her older brother play the sport in high school.
Yet she only began competitively playing football during her sophomore year in high school. This past season, she succeeded on an impressive 35 out of 38 extra point attempts, said her high school coach Gerald Todd.
“She was always fundamentally sound,” said Todd, adding, “The other players embraced her as one of the players, not as a girl or an outsider.”
Wanting to play in college, Longo sent a highlight reel last year to a few schools and starting following Adams State head coach Timm Rosenbach on Twitter. The school’s offensive coordinator Josh Blankenship wrote Longo back saying he would keep an eye out for her. That eventually led to a tryout in February where she kicked about 20 times from several distances.
“She’s really accurate as a kicker and is strong enough to compete at our level,” Rosenbach told TODAY, adding that he wasn’t really thinking about her gender one way or another. “I just wanted to see what she was capable of.”
Rosenbach also said Longo’s determination stood out. “She put herself out there to be able to do this and be recognized [in a male-dominated sport]. I have a lot of respect for that. It shows a willingness to work.”
Being the only female on a male team doesn’t come without unique challenges. “I get a lot of negativity and I feel like it’s going to keep building up from there. But the positivity outweighs all of that, so I don’t really pay attention to it,” said Longo, who also received a basketball scholarship at the school and plans on studying sports management.
She’s also been inspiring little girls to dream big. One supporter took to Twitter to post a photo of a girl donning a Longo jersey, writing “inspiring little girls even before shattering glass ceilings.”
Longo said it’s the young girls who have reached out to her that are her motivation. “They are inspiring me because they are pushing me to be a better person. I just want them to go out there and do what they love. I don’t want them to have to worry about what everyone else thinks,” she said.
Her mother, Andrea Longo, said she always supported her daughter playing on the boys’ team. “It wasn’t a big deal. I said, ‘Go see if you can kick with the boys. Go have fun with it.’ I didn’t think it would go as far as it did. But, looking back, I know my daughter. She is one of the strongest women I know. She’s incredible.”