Kelsey Eckert tried football on a dare.
She made the Centennial Centaurs’ senior team because of her self-confidence.
The Grade 11 student at Centennial secondary, and a manager with the football team, was running water bottles around during practice when one of the Centaurs’ assistant coaches suggested she try kicking a field goal.
Wearing white Vans sneakers, Eckert nailed a 35-yarder.
The coach said the team could use her.
Kicking a ball downfield or towards a specific target isn’t an unusual skill for Eckert. She’s a goalie for her Coquitlam Metro-Ford U17 soccer team in the BC Premier League as well as for her school’s side, the defending two-time provincial champion.
But Eckert said there’s a vast difference between the mechanics and mentality of kicking a football through the uprights and a soccer ball to a midfielder. With the former, she has to aim her foot higher to connect with the centre of the football — its sweet spot — then follow through with her entire leg to maximize her power and accuracy.
“I just have to focus on kicking it like a football player and not like a soccer player,” Eckert said.
Mentally, she said she has to block out the distraction of onrushing linemen trying to get to her or deflect the ball.
“You have to focus on yourself and the ball, and nothing else matters,” Eckert said.
Both sports present unique pressures. Just as a soccer match can turn on a goalkeeper’s ability to stop a penalty shot, a football kicker can win or lose a game with one swing of the leg.
Eckert said success in either comes from a deep belief in her own abilities.
“I just look down and kick it as high as I can and far as I can and don’t look back,” she said.
Still, the repetitive routine of booting the ball through the uprights at the quiet end of the practice field can bring its down moments, said Eckert, who has been able to have success from as far as 40 yards. If she feels she’s losing her groove or struggling to find her rhythm, she has learned to step away from the ball and go for a run around the track to regain her confidence.
Centaurs head coach Dino Geremia said Eckert’s self-assurance made her transition from manager to player pretty seamless. She was already comfortable with the players and they readily accepted her as one of their own.
“It hasn’t changed the dynamic at all,” he said.
But, Geremia added, Eckert’s presence on the field has sent his charges an important message: If a kid has talent, they’ll have an opportunity to play regardless of experience or gender.
“Many times, that’s all a kid wants, is a chance,” he said.
Eckert, who’s one of only three girls playing high school football in the province, according to BC School Sports, said she’s keen to make the best of her opportunity. With the blessing of her parents and soccer coaches, she’s working hard at practice with the Centaurs’ other two kickers, as well as assistant coach Giulio Caravatta, who had some experience kicking the ball during his playing career in the Canadian Football League.
And she’s confident whenever the tap comes on her shoulder pads, she’ll have the right stuff to get the ball wherever it needs to go.
“I know I can be stronger than the guys mentally,” Eckert said. “Just because I’m a girl playing on an all-guys team doesn’t mean anything.”