Kendyl Terrell approached her father a year ago, asking for his permission to join the Hattiesburg (Miss.) Tiger football team.
Clemon Terrell, a former Southern Miss football player, looked at his daughter for a moment and then immediately gave his answer, “No.”
But Terrell, who inherited that inner toughness from her father, didn’t give up. A year later, during Hattiesburg’s spring football practice in March 2017, Terrell got her shot after she got the go-ahead from both of her parents, and made the most of it.
Several football players, including seniors Raykell Ducksworth and Dennis Payton, approached head coach Tony Vance.
“They came to me and they were like, ‘Coach, you know, Kendyl can kick,'” Vance said. “And I kind of blew it off and was like OK, sure she can. She’s good at soccer so of course she can.”
It didn’t take Vance long to reconsider. While Hattiesburg held practice on one side of the field, Terrell was on the other side, booting extra points through the uprights.
“I kind of turned my head and peeked over,” Vance said. “I was thinking, man, that’s not bad.”
“I knew she could do it,” Payton said. “We all knew, really. She could kick and we could tell because she would score three or four goals in a soccer game. We knew if she got out there she was going to make it.”
But Vance needed more than the players’ votes of confidence. He looked to TaRon Sims, who nodded at him, smiling. Vance called Terrell over and asked her to make some. And sure enough, Terrell made every kick Vance asked her to make, with the approval of about 60 players on the sidelines cheering louder and louder with each kick.
“I was nervous,” Terrell said. “I won’t even lie. I really wanted to play and make it. I knew I could do it, but being out there in front of everybody was hard. But after I got through the first kick it was easy.”
Terrell continued to improve over the summer, and bonded with her teammates, who she compares to as having “60 brothers.”
“They’re protective of her,” Vance said. “It really is like she’s their little sister. It’s never been a problem. She knows where she can and can’t go and she’s cool with it. The guys are cool with it. It’s just another player on the team.
“You can also tell how excited they were for her. Raykell used to be our kicker, but he knew she was better so he was all for holding for her. He didn’t care. He knew she could kick.”
Terrell was shaky in her first action of the season, a jamboree with Tylertown and East Marion.
Terrell got three chances and missed all three, shaking her confidence.
“It did, it shook me a little bit,” she said. “But it wasn’t like I was missing them bad. I just missed them just barely. I hate missing, though.”
Ducksworth, the former kicker and now holder for Terrell, patted her on the helmet and told her to keep her head up. Vance knew she would bounce back. The team needed her to.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Vance said. “I think she needed that. She needed having people in different colored jerseys coming after her. She needed to go ahead and get that out of the way before the regular season started. But I never lost faith. She’s an iron woman.”
An iron woman. It describes Terrell perfectly. Between keeping a 4.0 GPA in her studies, and playing volleyball, soccer, track and softball, Terrell doesn’t make it easy on herself, especially with volleyball season coinciding with football season.
“We work around her schedule,” Vance said. “I’m like that with all my players. I want all my guys to play other sports. Kendyl takes it to a new level. That’s why I call her iron woman. She does it all and we want to keep it that way.”
“It gets a little hard sometimes, balancing it,” she said. “I couldn’t not do it, though. Being so busy, if I had any free time I wouldn’t know what to do. I want to get an athletic scholarship, so I need to play as many things as possible.”
It won’t take long for schools to come knocking. Terrell is among the top players on her volleyball team in kills and is, along with her sister Taytum, the top striker on the soccer team.
Playing soccer was also helpful in how Terrell approached kicking the football.
“It’s kind of the same,” she said. “Obviously they’re different balls, but you almost kick them kind of the same. So, when I started kicking the ball it was easy. I could already kick it pretty far.”
Terrell used those soccer skills to bounce back in her first official regular season game against Petal, one of the biggest games in Mississippi. Terrell was rock solid and went five-for-five in her extra point attempts.
“We were pumped,” Payton said. “We knew she could do it. She just had to go out there and do it.”
It may have shocked the fans, and maybe even Terrell herself, but it never shocked Vance, who believes that Terrell will keep the conversation going about women playing football.
“I’m all for it,” he said. “I think one day you’re going to see a girl kicker in college football. I think it’s a matter of time. You have to keep an open mind. Because you can’t deny she can kick. And if you can kick, you can just kick, and Kendyl can kick.”