She's getting a kick from football so far
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 25, 2012
CAMP WALKER, South Korea – Monica Morales was bored. Daegu football’s student manager had little to do Sept. 1, with the Warriors varsity on Okinawa playing at Kubasaki and a handful of jayvees at practice.
A soccer player in spring, Morales had never kicked a football before. “What the heck,” she told herself, picking up a kicking block and a football and trotting to the east end of Kelly Field.
She kicked several times, nothing farther than 20 yards, but with fairly good accuracy through the uprights. “Hey, that’s pretty good,” said the player shagging the kicks for her. “You should think about coming out” for the team.
Fast forward to Friday, when Morales, wearing No. 8 and decked out in pads and helmet, lined up to kick an extra point following Ronald McLean’s touchdown run against Osan American. Down the middle, straight and true. A fist pump and a few high-fives with her teammates followed.
“They were pretty excited,” coach Ken Walter said. “It looked kind of cute. She’s so tiny out there.”
All of 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds soaking wet, Morales has become the latest of what years ago might have been viewed as a novelty, but has become a trend at Daegu. She’s the third girl to place-kick in the football team’s history, joining Joanne Youngblood (2005) and Haley Claiborne (last season).
“It’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” Morales said.
She went 2-for-4 on PATs in her debut as Daegu won 26-15. “She was nervous, but I think she’ll settle down now that she’s been in a game situation,” Walter said. “She’s pretty tough, mentally and physically.”
Morales doesn’t handle all the kicking duties. Two other teammates, Gumchol Cho and Jorge Algarin, handle lengthier kickoffs and field goals.
In coming out for the team, Morales said she wasn’t trying to follow in the more strong-legged Youngblood’s or Claiborne’s footsteps. “I want to be Monica. I want to create an act of my own,” Morales said.
That act involves economical chip shots, be it extra-point kicks from 20 yards away or trying pooch-kicks to give Daegu a shot at recovering the ball on kickoffs. “I want to kick longer distances,” Morales said.
“She’ll hit nine of 10 in practice; she’s one of the most automatic kickers I’ve ever had,” Walter said. “Hashmark to hashmark, she hardly misses. That’s tough to teach a kid. Her aim is incredible. She’s so good at it, you could put a bucket out there and she would hit it.”
“Her consistency and short-range accuracy are better than Haley’s,” Warriors captain and lineman Chris Walker said. “She just doesn’t have the long leg.”
Morales’ success resonates hundreds of miles to Daegu’s south, where her old soccer coach, Ed Thompson, transferred to Kadena High School and is watching her feats from afar.
“The girls soccer team keeps grooming football kickers. That’s three for me,” said Thompson, who also coached Youngblood and Claiborne in soccer. Morales scored 10 goals as a freshman and nine as a sophomore on the pitch.
As a Warrior football player, Morales says she’s been accorded no special treatment other than being a part of the team.
“I’m not treated like a girl,” she said. “They hit my helmet, snap my pads, they push me to my limit just like any other player. I’m OK with that.”
Some in school give her a bad time, she says, suggesting that she just wanted attention or to be labeled as a girl player trying to be different.
“I just say ‘Whatever,’ ” Morales said. “It’s something I wanted to give a try. It seemed fun to me. It helps keep my leg in shape for soccer.”
The nay-sayers didn’t include anybody on the team, Walker said. “She was friends with a lot of us before she was on the team,” he said. “No one on the team is giving her a hard time about being a girl. We’re happy to have her.”
Present on the sideline for the Osan game were Morales’ parents and twin brothers. Josue, a civilian, works at 36th Signal on Camp Walker and his wife Michelle at Army Community Services. Brothers Josue and Javier, each 9, “support me, they tell me ‘good job out there,’” Morales said.
“We’re proud of her,” Michelle Morales said.
Asked if he had any advice for Morales, Thompson impulsively behaved as though he was still coaching the Warriors soccer team. “Don’t get injured before soccer. They still need you,” he said.