It was bound to happen.
Sooner or later, someone was going to step outside the box and offer a scholarship to a woman to play college football. Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that it was someone like Timm Rosenbach.
The Adams State coach is a former quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints. He also is the husband of a former professional volleyball player and the father of two sports-crazed girls. And that, more than anything, weighed heavily into his decision to offer a partial scholarship to kicker Becca Longo of Arizona to play for the Division II school in Alamosa, Colorado.
“Becca started following me on Twitter, and I thought it was pretty cool,” Rosenbach said in a phone interview last week. “I have two daughters who are 7 and 10 and they play hockey, volleyball, basketball, skateboarding, you name it. When I saw her kick, I started thinking this is something that could work out for the both of us.”
Though Division II teams do not offer full athletic scholarships, Longo is believed to be the first player to be recruited and receive some scholarship consideration from a Division II school or higher. A handful of women, however, have kicked before her.
Liz Heaston kicked two extra points for Willamette, then an NAIA program, on Oct. 18, 1997, and became the first woman to score in a college football game. Ashley Martin became the first woman to score at the Division I level when she kicked three extra points for FCS Jacksonville State against Cumberland on Aug. 30, 2001. Katie Hnida was the first woman to score at college football’s highest level when she kicked two extra points for FBS New Mexico against Texas State on Aug. 30, 2003. Tonya Butler kicked for Division II West Alabama in 2003 and 2004 and became the first woman to kick a field goal in an NCAA game (she made 13 of 19 field-goal attempts).
More recently, Brittany Ryan scored 100 points for Division III Lebanon Valley from 2007-10, making her the all-time NCAA leader among women. And April Gross became the second woman to score in an FBS game with an extra point for Kent State against Delaware State in 2015.
None of those women, however, was recruited to play, which goes a long way toward explaining the explosion of publicity last week after the signing of Longo, 18. Her story went viral on social media and she was featured in People magazine and “Good Morning America.’’ “I recruited her as a football player,” Rosenbach said. “It was also the right time and I thought we had the right chemistry. Here’s an opportunity to give someone who deserves it a chance to compete.”
Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that this barrier has been broken, because the number of girls playing 11-man high school football has more than doubled in the last seven years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. In 2015-16, there were 1,964 girls playing on 11-man high school football teams, up from 759 in 2008-09. Though statistics are not available for this season yet, three girls — Cayleigh Kunnmann of Bay Shore, Hannah Martin of Patchogue-Medford and Megan Benzing of Mepham — played on high school football teams on Long Island.
Interestingly, while girls’ interest in football is growing, the number of boys playing the 11-man game nationally has dropped by 9.9 percent in the same time period. Last year, there were 1,085,272 boys playing the game, down from 1,109,278 in 2008-09.
Apparently, the level of acceptance of girls playing what is traditionally considered a boys sport is growing at a faster clip than the safety concerns about playing high school football in general. Or, in other words, the same people who feel football is safe enough for their sons to play are allowing their daughters to do so now, too.
Longo made it clear on “Good Morning America’’ that she hopes to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams.
Said Longo: “I want them to go out and do what they love to do. If they want to play football, play football. If they want to play hockey, play hockey. Don’t listen to all the negativity, because you are going to get a lot of it. Just go do what you love.”