Madison junior Cheyenne Bunner dresses in a different locker room before and after games.
But otherwise, she receives no special treatment.
Bunner is just another player for the greatest football team in her high school’s history, and she would not want it any other way.
Now in her third year as a varsity kicker, Bunner hopes to get plenty of opportunities for the Patriots (13-1) in tonight’s 2-A Western Regional game at East Lincoln (14-0).
Kickoff is set for 7:30.
“Everyone here at Madison is used to it by now,” Bunner said.
“But it’s interesting to see the other team’s reaction when they don’t know we have a girl on our team. It’s surprising to them. They don’t know what to do when they see a ponytail sticking out of my helmet.”
The Patriots have smashed their previous record for single-season wins (seven) and along the way have done their part to protect Bunner from injury in a violent, full-contact sport.
Sophomore Ryan Horrell handles kickoffs and will step in to attempt long-range field goals.
But there is no individual at Madison, male or female, who is better than Bunner at what she does.
Bunner has hit 14 of her last 15 extra-point attempts and connected on all four tries in last week’s 28-21 win over Shelby to continue the deepest state playoff run in school history. Bunner’s longest field goal in a game has been from 28 yards away.
“I get butterflies every time I go out there,” Bunner said.
“I’d be worried if I wasn’t nervous. But I always seem to do better under pressure.”
Bunner also plays soccer and basketball at Madison, and said the latter is her favorite sport since she belongs to the WNC Lady Royals AAU club in the offseason.
While in middle school, Bunner struck up a conversation with a Madison coach about her soccer career and later followed his advice to come out for the football team.
She began her freshman season at the junior-varsity level, but eventually got to dress out for the varsity team later that same year.
“We all treat Cheyenne just like she’s part of the family,” Patriots junior quarterback Tyler Rogers said.
“You never hear any vulgar language around her or guys trying to pick on her. Cheyenne is a great person and a great kicker who has come through in the clutch for us. Everyone on this team is just like my brother and it’s the same with her. She’s just like my sister.”
Bunner said she is thankful for her holder, Cory Kent, the linemen who block for kick attempts and Patriots coach Mark Gosnell.
“Coach Gosnell gave me a shot when he didn’t have to,” Bunner said.
“I imagine there are other football coaches out there who never would have let a girl play, but he did. I can’t say thank you enough.”