NCC duo share unique experience
Cardinals combo kicked on gridiron during high school years
NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- North Central (Ill.) student-athletes Mackenzie Wenger and Hannah Magiera have many memories on the soccer field, but perhaps their most vivid experiences aren't from kicking a soccer ball past the goalkeeper, but kicking a football through the uprights.
The prospect of kicking on their respective high school varsity football teams started as a joke for both Wenger and Magiera. Eventually, with a little persistence and supportive coaching staffs, the opportunities were there for the taking.
“My driver's ed teacher - also a football coach - and I were joking about [trying out] one day,” Wenger said. “He said I should try kicking a football because he needed a consistent kicker. I told him I would try it, just for fun, and ended up doing well and was offered the opportunity to kick.”
Magiera experienced a similar scenario. “I was joking around with some friends saying I wanted to kick for the football team. They suggested I talk to the head coach. At first, he took it as a joke, but I came out for the three-week summer camp. That led to them asking if I was committed to kicking for them, and I said 'Yes,'” Magiera said.
For Wenger, a 2010 graduate of Dakota High School, football had always been a tradition in her family and community. Her older brother Matt led Dakota to a 2A state championship in 2005 and was a two-time All-American at North Central. While her duties on the high school team were vastly different than her brother's, she still felt she was one of the boys.
"The experience of playing with boys was awesome," Wenger said. “I wouldn't trade it for anything. The team members really took me under their wing. It was tough at first. I almost felt shunned, but then the guys were really welcoming.”
Wenger served as the primary kicker during her junior and senior high school years. Though the team didn't attempt any field goals, she had many opportunities to kick extra points. The team compiled a 19-2 record during those two seasons, advancing each year to the state playoffs.
Magiera, a 2012 graduate of Zion-Benton High School, felt like part of the team family, despite being the only female.
“[Trying out] was by far the best decision I made,” Magiera said. “With so many fans at every game, it was so much fun. At first, the guys who didn't know me didn't think much of my abilities, but once they saw me kick they all came together to protect me.”
She was 3-for-3 her senior season in field goal attempts, including a 27-yarder, and kicked extra points as well.
While Wenger and Magiera did not participate in full-contact tackling drills due to strict guidelines set by their high school soccer coaches, they learned proper tackling techniques just in case something went awry during a kick attempt. They also proved they could compete with the boys in other aspects of the game, like motivating fellow players to work harder.
“In practice one day we were flipping tires and some guys were struggling, so I served as motivation for them to work harder since I could [flip them],” Magiera said.
Wenger says she helped motivate others as well.
“Especially during sprints, they would say 'We can't be beaten by a girl,' and I was like, 'It's not my fault I beat you!' I would do all the defensive back drills for the conditioning because I got tired of kicking the whole practice. One time, the guys didn't realize I had the ball. I ran around the end and someone layed me out. They were worried but I got right up. It was one of the funniest things during the season.”
Even though Wenger and Magiera felt the support of their own teammates, others—especially the opposing team's fans and players—still questioned their ability as female kickers in a male-dominated sport.
“A couple times when I was stepping off my kick, I could hear some on the other side of the ball saying 'Is that a girl? It can't be a girl,''' Magiera said. “When the announcer said 'The kick was good by Hannah Magiera' or we'd shake hands after the game, I would hear some rude comments, but it was mostly just confused looks.
"What bothered me the most was that if I missed a kick, they would say it's because she's a girl, not that the snap was bad or the hold wasn't good. I just wanted to prove that girls can do this, and that was important to me,” Magiera said.
Wenger and Magiera would say the experiences of playing high school football more than made up for the doubts or harsh words, and that any female athletes who believe they have the ability to play with the boys should just go for it.
“I really wish all girls could experience what it's like to play with a bunch of guys because it's just so different. If you're confident, go for it, ” Wenger said.
“I would say [try out], 100 percent, even if you only have a slight idea about doing it. I gained so many friends and so much experience, confidence and respect from it. It was just an awesome experience,” Magiera said.