It all began as a playful joke, then quickly escalated into a major responsibility for Kayla Gandy.
Gandy approached Autauga Academy football coach Mike Sims about the possibility of joining the varsity team as its kicker. She was surprised when Sims called her bluff and offered the soccer standout a tryout.
“I was joking around with the coaches,” Gandy said. “I asked Coach Sims was he going to let me play football. He said, ‘If you can get out there and make a field goal, I’ll let you kick.'”
With the Generals (3-0, 3-0 Class AA, Region 1) basically at a loss as to who would assume the kicking duties heading into the 2013 season, Gandy couldn’t have picked a better time to speak up about wanting to play football.
“The last few years, we were blessed to have quality guys at kicker who were experienced enough,” Sims said. “This year, we kind of just fell behind, so we didn’t have anyone coming up through the ranks. She finished second in the state (AISA) in soccer goals.
“I just told her that if she can make a field goal, then we’ll let you play.”
After watching multiple kicks float through the uprights, Sims was sold.
“I just went out there and made it,” Gandy said. “Been kicking every day since.”
Making kicks isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Gandy. The senior has been participating in organized soccer for 13 years, the past two as a member of Autauga Academy’s girls and coed squads.
As for football, so far, so good. The 17-year-old has handled her responsibilities on special teams quite well, converting 10 of 13 extra-point attempts, dispelling any notion that her place on the football roster is simply a publicity stunt. Gandy has yet to have a chance at a field goal, but her coach won’t hesitate to call on her when that time comes.
“We’re pretty confident in her abilities,” said Sims, a fifth-year coach. “If we get within the 30 or 25-yard line, we have a pretty good chance to come away with some points.”
From teachers to teammates to classmates, support for Gandy has been strong.
“Everyone has been incredibly supportive,” said Gandy, who claims to be extremely accurate from within 35 yards. “There hasn’t been anyone who has given me any kind of trouble about being a girl. All the guys (on the football team) love me. They stick up for me all the time. Everyone has been more supportive than I thought they would be.”
All the encouragement couldn’t help her escape the personal pressures of prep football, however.
“Everyone asked if I was afraid of getting hurt,” she said. “But I am not afraid of getting hit — I am more afraid of messing up. I don’t want to be the reason we lose a game or something like that. I don’t want people to think I am not good because I am a girl.”
“If I am not good, it’s because I am not good.”
The season opener provided some jittery moments. The hour-plus bus ride to Coosa Valley Academy didn’t calm Gandy’s nerves, and she repeatedly thought about quitting before kickoff. Of her three missed PATs this season, two occurred in that game.
If opposing teams get too physical with Gandy, her teammates won’t just stand by and watch. Sims and his coaching staff put the message out to Gandy’s teammates before the season that it’s their job to play the “big brother” role on Friday nights.
“We look out for her,” said senior offensive lineman Harrison Riley, who got into a brief scuffle protecting Gandy during last week’s 43-29 victory against rival East Memorial. “I am going to go above and beyond. I am always going to protect her, because she’s family now.”
Junior tailback Eric Graham offered a bit of a warning to the rest of Autauga Academy’s opponents.
“When we say that the kicker isn’t supposed to be touched, that’s what we mean,” said Graham, who’s averaging 247 yards per game. “If someone’s going to hit her and think they’re going to get away with it, they’ve got another think coming. It’s not going to happen.”