As an educator faithful to his commitment to see that students meet their full potential, Strawn football coach Dewaine Lee knows “because” is never a good reason to deny a student who wants to try something new.
So, if a young freshman girl asks if she could try out as the kicker on the football team ‘No, because girls aren’t supposed to play football’ is no longer an appropriate response.
It is Tennyson’s Ulysses, after all, that is most instructive, to do “beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
“We’re all about letting kids try stuff,” Lee said. “If a kid wants to do something we always try to be flexible and help out. She said, ‘Coach, I want to kick.’ And I said, ‘Well, come and try it out.’ ”
It turned out senior K-Lani Nava was doing more than satisfying a passing interest. A former soccer player, Nava proved she could kick — earning three letters on the varsity team, in fact — and has become a key contributor to the Greyhounds’ bid for a third UIL six-man state title.
Nava is believed to be the first female player in a UIL championship football game.
State No. 1 Strawn faces No. 2 Balmorhea in the Class 1A Division II Six-Man championship game on the biggest stage, Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, where there regularly are more people in line at the concession stand than the town’s entire population of 653, give or take.
Kickoff is 2 p.m. Wednesday.
It’s the culmination of a journey that started her freshman season and has included all the expected bumps and bruises.
She had quit select soccer as an eighth-grader because she didn’t think she would be able to also play basketball, something she very much wanted to do. However, she hadn’t lost her desire to kick.
She said her mother was supportive from the start, though her grandmother wanted her to do something more football traditional, like cheerleading.
In her first game, her greatest fears manifested in a missed snap, leading to a defensive jail break and a pile on of the kicker.
“I get laid out,” Nava said. “I thought it was funny. It’s part of the game. Getting hit was my biggest fear when I first started. I was happy that it was the first thing to happen.”
Comedy is the ultimate polisher.
Once upon a time, female kickers were found only in Hollywood portrayals.
Kathy Ireland’s part in “Necessary Roughness,” Lucy Draper, more than a generation ago was notable. Nava said she saw the movie six or seven years ago and thought, ‘Hey, I can do that. I’m a soccer player” like Lucy.
While certainly not the norm, female kickers at the high school level aren’t exactly UFOs anymore. More have appeared in recent seasons. Reilly Fox of Paschal in 2015-16 was a recent noteworthy example.
Nava “was serious about doing whatever it took to improve,” said Brent Grablachoff of Kicking World, her personal kicking coach. “She put a lot of time and hard work into training with us. She’s blossomed nicely.
“She went from being a C-plus level kicker to a bona fide B-plus to A-minus kicker.”
Grablachoff said he witnessed Nava kick a 48-yard field goal at a camp in Austin over the summer.
Strawn, with an enrollment of 44 (179 in K-12), has rolled through the playoffs, winning its first three games by a combined score of 166-6 before topping Milford in the state semifinals by a more typical six-man score of 102-71.
The kicker in six-man football can be critical. Extra points are worth two points. Field goals are worth four, through you don’t see as many attempts as you might in an 11-man game.
Nava has kicked as many as 10 extra points in a game.
Strawn players wear a jersey with the initials “M.I.S.” That is, “Made in Strawn.”
Nava is “M.I.S.,” too, though it took just a bit of time to convince everybody.
Her teammates were a “little iffy,” at first. “They just thought I was not going to be able to do it. But there was one game I proved myself to them, and they accepted me immediately.”
She seems to take the doubters in stride, seeming to realize they will always be there.
Nava, ultimately, must perform, just like everybody else.
Lee said some teams have come after her, to try to hit her. She has taken that, too, in stride. Nava said she has also been hit by guys who didn’t realize she was female, “and they freaked out.”
No one, she said, has stooped to name-calling to try to intimidate her.
And, even so, she would have some backup.
“Last year, I got tapped barely,” Nava said. “My holder, Landon Haney, stood up, got in that guy’s face and said, ‘stay away from my kicker.’
“I didn’t expect that. It meant a lot, but it surprised me.”