It may have already happened Friday night when Horn Lake hosted Lake Cormorant in the inaugural Lake Bowl rivalry game, but whenever it does happen, a senior placekicker wearing number 68 for Horn Lake will be especially excited about getting in the game for the home team Eagles to boot an extra point, or possibly a game-winning field goal.
(Editor's note: Valdez did get a chance to kick an extra point, which she made, late in Friday's Horn Lake victory over Lake Cormorant, 48-14.)
What will be especially exciting for the young and diminutive 115-pound senior, especially when compared to the likes of the nearly 300-pound offensive linemen whose job will be to protect the kicker from getting tackled before the kick goes off, will be that the boot will be the first of its kind for the player, or even ever.
That is because the player is Jeanette Valdez, who is more used to kicking a round soccer ball compared to the odd shape of a football.
Valdez, who will soon celebrate birthday number 18, could be the first, if not one of the first, female football kickers to take the field for Horn Lake, or for that matter, any DeSoto County prep football team.
The new addition to the Eagles’ football roster is also the captain of the school’s girls soccer team and says she loves to kick a ball, although she is new to a football. Valdez said she has kicked a soccer ball since the age of three.
Head coach Brad Boyette brought Valdez on board to add depth to the position that already has placekickers available. Boyette admits Valdez has work to do, but said her roster spot is not being done to make a statement. Boyette said Valdez has earned her spot on the team.
“She’s an accomplished athlete and she’s serious about what she is doing,” Boyette said about Valdez. “There’s a lot that goes into placekicking, as far as timing and steps especially. She’s worked as hard as any other member of our football team trying to hone her craft and get better every day.”
Both Valdez and Boyette said the connection was first made by the youngster asking him if she could play, a move first done in jest that quickly became more serious.
“It was kind of a joke, at first, but the other kicker started to support me, so I went for it,” Valdez said. “I practiced on my own at first and then I talked to coach (Boyette) and he was really excited about it. So I thought, ‘This is really where it’s at,’ because I really, really like kicking and everything.”
Boyette said there is a fierce competition to see who gets to play each Friday night.
“We have other kickers on the team and they go out and battle every day,” he said. “But, in the weeks to come, don’t be surprised if she runs out on the field.”
“We still make it competitive,” Valdez added. “We don’t say anything but every day at practice we try to see who can kick it the farthest or who makes the better field goal. We don’t even have to say anything, we already know we’re in competition.”
While other kickers have worked on the fundamentals thousands of times, Boyette said Valdez has some catching up to do in that area. However, the coach added she has the potential to boot a football a long way.
“Right now, we haven’t worked as hard on range as we have worked on timing,” Boyette said. “We’ve moved her out to the 30-yard range because she’s got the leg to do that, but once she’s not thinking about timing and such, her range is going to expand beyond 30 yards.”
Allowances are made for Valdez because she is a female, such as sitting on road trips in the front of the bus with the coaches and dressing in a separate locker room.
That first time, whenever it happens, will be a special moment when Valdez is called on to put points on the scoreboard for the Eagles.
“It’s going to be nerve wracking and I’m going to be excited,” Valdez admitted. “I can’t wait to hear, ‘Valdez, you’re in!’ I’m ready to hear that. When I get there, I know I’m going to have to take a deep breath and be thinking more about the kick.”
And once soccer season starts, opponents may want to step back a few more yards once she takes the ball. She’s already had practice on distance with football.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.