First female on school’s football team urges others to step out of their comfort zone

HORN LAKE, Miss. — Friday is homecoming night at Horn Lake High School, but for one senior there’s a whole lot more to look forward to.

Jeanette Valdez's coach says she’s the first female to play on the football team in the school's recent history.

Valdez, 17, knows what she’s doing when she’s out on the field. An accomplished athlete, she’s captain of the soccer team.

That’s right — she’s putting her soccer skills to work.

She’s been playing the sport since she was three years old. However on homecoming night, Valdez will be suiting up in a different uniform.

"You take a lot of pride in saying I’m part of the football team," explained Valdez.

What started as a joke between another kicker on the football team in physics class turned into a reality when she approached head coach Brad Boyette.

"One morning in the hallway she just came up and said I would like to try to kick," explained Boyette.

So Coach Boyette had her show off ability to boot the ball.

"She didn’t know a lot about the approach, the steps, the footwork, that sort of thing, but you could see immediately she had a very strong leg.”

"Gender is not a factor. If they come and say, ‘Hey I really want to give this a shot' and they’re serious about it then yes, as a coach I’m going to give them an opportunity," he said.

"My parents, their first thought was like, ‘Wow, football?' So to have this many people support me? It feels great," said Valdez with a smile.

Teammate Hunter Berryman said he wasn’t so much surprised she wanted to be part of the all-boys team in a male-dominated sport.

"I was more excited because I just think everyone deserves an equal opportunity," explained Berryman.

Valdez said she did have some mixed emotions at first.

"It’s really nerve wracking. It’s kinda scary at first because it’s something new, out of your comfort zone but it’s fun. Once you step out of your comfort zone, ya know? Try something new.”

Nakobe Dean, a linebacker, has an impressive athletic resume of his own.

He says Valdez’ experience helps him too.

"It pushes me to do things that maybe I can’t do or maybe question about doing," he said.

Valdez hopes what shes doing can inspire other young women to take risks and believe in themselves to accomplish their goals.

"Just go for it. Honestly it’s not that bad. I want to be a pediatric oncologist so there’s going to be a lot of things that discomfort me might as well start easing into accepting differences and be open to change.”

Her dream is to work at St. Jude. As if she doesn’t have enough going on for her already she said she has a 4.3 GPA, takes AP classes and plans to be part of the track team.

When asked about wearing a homecoming dress she said she is happy and just fine out on the field.