Those in attendance at Friday’s North Oaks Sports Medicine Albany Jamboree may have done a double-take, and that’s OK.
No, your eyes weren’t playing tricks – both Albany and Springfield have a female player on their roster this season.
For Springfield, it’s junior kicker Olivia Davis, and for Albany, it’s lineman Elena Alvarado.
They'll head into season openers Friday, with Albany hosting Independence and Springfield traveling to face Bogue Chitto, Miss., both at 7 p.m.
Both players made it on to their teams in different ways, with Davis’ journey starting over the summer after Bulldogs coach Ryan Serpas got a text from Davis’ mother, Stephanie, asking if the family could use the football field to work on field goals.
Serpas thought Davis’ brothers Colten, who graduated last year, or Max, were the ones working on their kicking. But Serpas knew something was different once he started getting texts and calls from assistant coaches M.J. Nobles and Ronald McCaleb while he was on vacation.
When Serpas returned the phone calls, his coaches told him they’d found a place-kicker in Olivia Davis.
“I was like, ‘Wow! I’ve got to see this,’” Serpas said.
Olivia Davis said Nobles offered her a spot on the team, but she didn’t take it seriously at first.
“I was laughing,” she said. “I thought he was just playing around, because it was only like 15 yards. That’s it. Afterward, we got done, he was like, ‘I’m being for real. Do you want a spot on the team?’ I wasn’t really thinking about it, but then he invited me to a couple of practices.”
Serpas got his first look at Olivia Davis’ kicking abilities when he returned from vacation following a practice he remembers well.
“It was one of those hot, scorching days, and I just wanted to get off the field and get in the AC in my office,” Serpas said.
Once he got into his office, Serpas opened the blinds and watched Davis kick. He saw what he needed to see.
“I see her make contact with the ball, and I was like ‘she’s got something here,’” Serpas said. “It was refreshing. I let her kick for about 10 minutes, and then I came out here and I started working with her on a couple of things. She was listening. She was receptive, and she kept working at it and kept doing a great job.”
Olivia Davis started playing soccer in Indiana and also played for STYSA and at Chappappeela Park in Hammond until her freshman year of high school when she aged out of the league there. In that regard, football has given her a way of carrying on the family’s kicking tradition after Colten Davis handled those duties during his time with the Bulldogs.
“They mentioned it my freshman year because I could kick and my brother was a kicker,” Olivia Davis said of kicking for the football team. “They were like, ‘When your brother leaves, you’ve got to get it,’ and it was just like a joke. I was like, ‘Ha! That’s funny.’”
When it came to actually going through with kicking, Olivia Davis said she was nervous, but not for the reasons one might think.
“I came to a few practices, and it really wasn’t that bad,” she said. “I was just thinking how goofy I would look on the field in a bunch of pads.”
Olivia Davis, who also plays volleyball and softball for Springfield, didn’t get a chance to kick in the Bulldogs’ 8-0 jamboree loss to Independence last Friday, but she did turn in a 4-for-4 effort on PATs in Springfield’s scrimmage with Central Private. She said her nerves were ‘shot’ in her first game action.
“I didn’t want to come out the dressing room,” she said, saying her biggest fears besides the wearing the uniform are kicking in front of people and missing a kick.
“She’s a great kid, and I’m glad she had the opportunity (in the jamboree) to kind of show people what she’s capable of and it’s not just a stunt or anything like that,” Serpas said. “I think as long as she continues to work, she’s going to be better and more comfortable with it as we go along.”
Olivia Davis said her teammates have been supportive and she’s got plenty of confidence in her offensive line protecting her.
“We’ve got a pretty good line,” Davis said. “I’m not worried about it. If I need to, I might just lay down or go the other way or just take a hit.”
Olivia Davis also said she’s not looking for any added attention this season.
“Coach says nobody else can kick, but I’m almost positive if they can put everybody up to that tee, somebody’s going to make it through,” she said.
Serpas said he’s happy to have Olivia Davis on the team.
“It a little different,” he said. “In my 17 years of coaching football, I’ve never had a girl on the football team, so this is a first experience for me, but she does a great job, and I’m glad that she decided to do it.”
Meanwhile, Albany’s Alvarado is playing her first season of tackle football after playing flag football in middle school.
“I would go out and the guys would hype me up about it, and they told me that I should come try out for the high school because we were about to get out of school,” she said.
Alvarado said she talked with middle school coach Louis Sansovich and Albany coach Mike Janis about coming out for the team and decided to do so.
“We don’t have a girls volleyball team, so if they want to play football and they’re going to commit to it the way that all of our players commit to it, then I’m willing to have them come out and play,” said Janis, who had two female players come out when the team started hosting eighth-grade workouts. “She’s put forth the effort and had good attendance over the summer and has done everything required of her. She enjoys being out there from all that I can gather and we enjoy having her. She’s doing a good job.”
What’s different for Alvardo is she’s a lineman, playing offensive guard and defensive tackle. That means contact on every play, something she doesn’t shy away from.
“(It’s a) contact sport,” Alvarado said. “Everything about it really made me amazed. You don’t really see a lot of girls out here doing that. It was out of fun, but at the same time, I really do take this stuff serious.”
Alvarado said playing on the line has taken some getting used to, but she’s gotten guidance from her teammates, singling out senior linemen Ronnie Tubreville and David Perez for their roles in helping her learn the sport.
“Some of the guys, they help me out with plays,” Alvarado said. “They’ll send me different calls and they’ll show me where to line up. At first because I was new and they didn’t really know about me and stuff, but I’ve grown a lot closer to all of them. I’m really thankful for my team. I love those guys a lot. I love all of them.”
She’s also developed her own approach to playing the game, and she’s learned a bit about herself along the way.
“Sometimes I see the guys, they’ll look at me like they’ll think I won’t have it in me to do it,” Alvarado said. “The first time, they’ll go easy, and then the second time, they’ll put some strength in there. It’s real cool because you go out there and they’re like ‘Oh yeah, they’ve got you,’ but they don’t know what you’ve got in you. Nobody really knows what you’ve got in you except you. It’s amazing to see their faces when you get out of their heads and they’re just like, ‘Whoa, OK!
“It makes your blood rush, and … you can’t really have anger in this sport. You have to have fun with it. At the end of the day, you can’t get mad if you get hit because it’s football, what do you expect?,” she said with a laugh.
Alvarado worked with the Hornets’ third-team groups in scrimmages and got her first junior varsity action last week.
“It’s big boys,” Alvarado said. “We played against Live Oak and I got through and I got to two people. It was the best thing … just stopping a touchdown. It makes you feel good. Sometimes you’re not always going to make it, but it’s trying and seeing that you’ve got the courage to go out there with the big boys. It shows a lot about the person that you are. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and tell me that they look up to me because you don’t see a lot of people come out here and do what I do.
“What Olivia (Davis) does, it’s amazing because nobody expects us to be out here with the boys.”
Janis said Alvarado is the first female player he’s coached at the varsity level and said his approach to coaching her isn’t complicated.
“She’s a lineman,” he said. “She’s a freshman, and when we called the threes out in the scrimmage, she played right guard. She came out and she played. We were able to move the ball significantly, and that’s a tribute to all 11 that were on the field, and she’s one of them. She’s one of us.
“These kids get four years to be a high school athlete, and they should take full advantage of it,” Janis continued. “Play as much as you can. That doesn’t just go for the boys on my football team. That goes for all high school athletes. If that’s a girl, if that’s a guy. If you really want to be a competitive high school football player, go play high school football. It shouldn’t be something that is not allowed or deprived to anyone because they’re a boy or a girl.”
Alvarado said football is now in her blood.
“It’s amazing,” Alvarado said. “I don’t want to stop. I want to go my full four years. I hope that I keep my grades up and I’m going to try my best to stay on the team. I don’t want to stop. It’s just something that you do and you don’t expect to, so when you do do it, it’s like you don’t want to stop. It’s pretty amazing. I don’t see myself stopping until I graduate.”