VHS kicker sports blonde hair and pink nail polish
Published 11:30 am Friday, September 12, 2014
There’s something different about No. 19.
As the kickers warm up at Memorial Stadium, booting balls deep into the band bleachers in the back of the end zone, No. 19 looks the same as everyone else — black jersey firmly tucked in to black pants and helmet snugly wrapped around the head. But a closer look reveals why No. 19 is so special.
Two blonde pigtails hang loosely down by her shoulders.
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No. 19 is Caroline Williams, a senior at Vicksburg who has become the answer to the Gators’ recent lack of kicking depth. After starting punter/placekicker Marc Grace was injured two weeks ago, Vicksburg coach Marcus Rogers was forced to rapidly conventionalize the unconventional by making Williams the newest addition to the team last Wednesday. Two assistant coaches approached the senior, a soccer standout for the Gators since the 8th grade, after Grace was ruled out for last week’s game against Warren Central. With her background in soccer and strong leg, they wanted to know if she would be interested in trying out at kicker. It was a question she quickly answered.
“(They) talked to me,” Williams said. “One of my friends had recommended it because she’s on the soccer team with me, and we had been talking about how Marc was injured. They just said, ‘Well, can you kick?’ And I said yes.”
If it seems like it was that simple, it’s because it was. Williams trotted onto the field at Memorial Stadium the next day with fellow kicker Lee Middleton and prepared for her first attempt while the team ran drills on the practice field.
“Lee, he basically just set it up for me. He showed me one time and I did it,” Williams said matter-of-factly. “I was making them, and we went down and told Coach Rogers and he came up and watched me for a little bit. He said, ‘That’s all I need to see.’”
The senior takes virtually every free kick and corner kick for the soccer team and has practiced field goals with her brother before, but that tryout was her first time placekicking in a true football environment. But after hesitating on her first kick, Williams calmed down and started nailing 35 yarders to the awe of her new head coach.
“We were on the field practicing. I had sent her up to the game field, and they said, ‘Coach, she’s making them from the 35,’” Rogers said. “ I said, yeah, I need to see this for myself. Then I was sold.”
Rogers could hear the thud of the ball bouncing off her foot as he walked up, so before he was even able to see her he knew he had talent on his hands.
But kicking in practice and in a game-day environment is much different, and Williams was reminded last Friday night. As hundreds of fans slowly filed into Memorial Stadium, she lined up for her first practice attempt with an audience.
“I was kind of nervous, just a little bit, because it’s a little bit more rushed in football than it is in soccer. I can take all the time I need in soccer, but people are going to by trying to come at me in football,” Williams said. “I was trying to keep that in mind and it’s a little bit different. But it’s pretty much easy. I can do it, and I know I can.”
Her long blonde hair and deep boots drew some double takes from fans as she warmed up, but to her teammates, Williams is just another football player trying to help Vicksburg win — something Rogers made abundantly clear in a rousing speech before signing her on to the team.
“I told them in my speech, basically, zero tolerance. You’re cut. It’s 2014. It’s not the old days — evolution,” he said.
“You never know, one day you might see a woman in the NFL. So open your minds. Y’all have got mommas, y’all’ve got sisters, y’all’ve got nieces, that type of deal. We don’t have time for small-minded people. Basically that’s what I told them, and now they’re like big brother.”
Sixty big brothers to help ease the transition of breaking the gender barrier while helping usher in a female presence to an extremely male-dominated sport. So even though she has her own a separate locker room, Williams feels like she’s just a part of the team.
“It makes me much more comfortable than anything else,” Williams said. “Sometimes I feel kind of put out of the way because I can’t be with everybody and can’t do everything they do, but it’s very family-like. I like it.”
Middleton will take most of the kicking duties for the Gators tonight against Gentry, and Grace is slowly healing from his injury. The coaching staff informed Williams that she could see action for pooch kicks and might be called on to kick extra points if the team takes a big lead. But while she waits, the senior will be on the sideline in full pads, helmet in hand, waiting for her shot.
“As long as you’re not worried about what might happen, which nothing really can, you shouldn’t be worried about what people think,” she said.
At Vicksburg High, if someone says you kick like a girl, it’s now considered a compliment.