Taylor Moreno, a senior at Huntington High School, was throwing a football around during recess back in seventh grade. The coach of the eighth-grade boys football team watched from a distance.
He approached her and asked if she would be interested in being his quarterback.
"I ran home and asked my parents," Moreno said. "They wouldn't let me because the guys were way bigger than I was. I was so upset but it made me realize that it was realistic for a girl to play on a boys football team. Ever since then it was a dream of mine."
It became a reality this season. Moreno, 17, became the first girl to play on Huntington's varsity football team after making the roster as a kicker. She is the only female varsity football player this season, according to Newsday's records.
As the Huntington offense neared the end zone for its first touchdown of the season during a 40-6 win over Bellport on Sept. 19, Moreno said her body went numb knowing her first extra-point attempt was approaching.
"I was so nervous, so tense, I almost felt like my body was holding me back," she said. "But as soon as I kicked the ball and knew it was going in, that feeling went away. Then everyone started congratulating me and telling me that I made history."
Moreno, at 5-7 and 143 pounds, has yet to attempt a field goal in a game but has converted eight of 11 extra-point attempts. She hit four of her five attempts in Huntington's 34-0 win over Centereach yesterday, helping the Blue Devils improve their season record to 3-3.
She had wanted to play tackle football since elementary school. When her parents, Michael and Theresa, didn't allow her to play for the middle school football team, they signed her up for flag football at the YMCA in Huntington.
They said she was the only girl on the team and she played quarterback. That was the last time she participated in organized football until this season.
Moreno, who is committed to the University of North Carolina for lacrosse, is also an all-county goalkeeper for the Blue Devils' girls soccer team. The football and soccer teams occasionally will practice on separate ends of the same field. Last season, Huntington football coach Steve Muller saw Moreno punt a soccer ball past midfield.
"I was like 'Wow! She's got plenty of leg!' " he said. "When I'd pass her in the hallways I would tell her she needs to kick for us."
Knowing how much it meant to Taylor, and that the risk of injury is drastically reduced for a kicker, Moreno's parents gave her permission to play. She began practicing with the team in August.
"The first practice was a little strange but after that we just treated her like one of us and she fit in fine," said senior quarterback Will Wright, who holds the ball for Moreno on extra points. "It's special that she's breaking the barrier to be the first girl playing here."
Moreno said that, despite already being friends with many of the guys, when she first started practicing with the team, she was very intimidated.
"I thought I'd get a couple looks from the guys and they'd be like there is no way this girl is going to last here," she said. "But I knew most of them beforehand. They knew I wasn't going to take any crap from them. So they accepted me, and the awkwardness I was kind of getting in the beginning went away."
Before putting on her shoulder pads and helmet in a separate locker room before each game, Moreno ties her hair in a French braid. She then joins the team and takes the field.
"I don't think anything could fill us with more pride than to see her in the lineup and see that braid coming out of the back of her helmet among these big strapping football players," Theresa Moreno said. "The collective feeling from the community has been one of support. They thought it was girl-empowering."
Michael Moreno said: "Funny enough, some parents were actually a little disappointed that she wasn't doing more than kicking."
Taylor, who doesn't kick off or punt for the team, has drawn contact only once this season. A snap on an extra point was low and an opponent charged at her, so she lowered her shoulder and took the hit.
"Getting run into by a kid two times my size at full speed definitely did not feel good," she said. "But I kept my balance."
Which comes as no surprise, considering her athletic ability. Soccer coaches named Moreno Suffolk County goalkeeper of the year as a junior. Also a goalie in lacrosse, she received a partial scholarship to play for UNC. She ran indoor track last winter and won the county title in the long jump.
"She has always been one of the most athletic girls in our school and she is mentally tough," said Amaru Jones, a captain of the football team. "So I wasn't that surprised and it wasn't that far-fetched that she could play football."
Moreno, who generally practices with the football team three times a week for an hour or so after soccer practice, says the longest field goal she has hit was from 32 yards during pregame warm-ups. Muller says he'd feel comfortable bringing her in during a pressure situation for any field goal inside of 30 yards.
"It's kind of a dream come true for me, too," Muller said. "Having three daughters, it's almost like it could be one of my girls out there making a team. If you're good enough, you should get an opportunity. Doesn't matter who or what you are."
Moreno realized the impact her presence on the team was making off the field when, during a game, a group of children lined the fence near the bleachers and asked if she could autograph their footballs.
"It shows that girls can be just as good at sports as guys, if not better," she said. "Now girls know they can push the boundaries of sports and change the way people see them."
When the football team was having dinner in the cafeteria the night before the first game of the season, Moreno was playing in a soccer game outside. She scored on a free kick from 20 yards out with 2.7 seconds remaining in a 1-0 win, accomplishing the rare feat of being a goalkeeper to score the winning goal. Immediately after the game, Moreno rushed into the cafeteria. When she walked in, the entire football team began cheering.
"I thought she would go celebrate with the soccer team," football captain Michael Lonergan said. "Her coming there showed that she was committed to our team. She is one of the guys, almost."
The experience has allowed Moreno to reach a goal she has had since throwing the football around during recess in seventh grade.
"Playing a sport not meant for girls has been amazing, and I proved to myself that I could do it," she said. "All the guys on the team have been so supportive. It's great to know that I have 40 new brothers backing me up."