ATASCADERO— The Atascadero freshman football team became a little more diverse this season. It’s 2017, and by now most of us have heard a stories about girls playing football, but in most cases the team's female player occupies the position of kicker. However, to many football players, to be considered a “real football player” you need to get some contact, you need to knock heads every once in awhile because that is what separates football from all other sports — the ability to hit people.
Makaylie Howell plays football for the Atascadero freshman team and is one of their kickers, but is also, unequivocally, a “football player” by any stretch of the definition. Makaylie is the team's starting left tackle and one of the best lineman on the team. She battles in the trenches every down and as for contact, she loves it. When asked what her favorite part of football, her answer was no different than the one received from the senior captain on the varsity team: she loves to hit people.
This is Makaylie’s first season playing football (she specializes in soccer and will be playing for the high school this winter) but she spent her summer in the weight room and caught football fever.
“I was in the strength and conditioning program over the summer to get into the weights class and coach just kind of convinced me to do football this year,” she said.
Freshman Head Football Coach Ben Tomasini also happens to run the summer weights program for Atascadero High School and has always been an advocate for weight training while simultaneously singing the praises of football.
“We want everyone and every athlete to use the weight room,” Tomasini said. “We want to encourage soccer players, baseball players, track runners, cheerleaders, everyone to use the weight room.”
Makaylie happened to be one of those soccer players in the weight room this summer and heard all the great things coach Tomasini had to say about football.
“It wasn’t so much like ‘hey come out and play football,’ I wasn't necessarily trying to talk her into playing so much as I was just extending the virtues of football to everyone and it must have connected with her.”
As for becoming the team's starting offensive tackle, that was purely due to her abilities.
“She naturally worked her way into the position, her body type and physique fit great,” Tomasini said. “She has really great feet, maybe the best of all the lineman.”
However, having a lady on football field does call for some adjustments. It’s something foreign to the coaches and the players and would undoubtedly call for some modifications. For example, it is more common for football players to tap each other on the rear end after a good play than it is for them to tap hands, it’s just something that has been instilled into the culture from a young age.
Tomasini is also aware of the fact that he cannot just address his team as “men” any longer and has began changing his verbiage to make sure Makaylie feels included.
“I’ve had to make some adjustments, like not always addressing the team as guys or men and at times affirming her womanhood by saying she and her,” he said.
As for the boys on the team, they have handled the situation with great maturity. Two weeks into the season and through training camp adjustments have been made and Howell is having more fun than ever.
“Well it's really fun because the guys, they’ve gotten used to it, sort of used to it now, it seems,” Makaylie said. “It’s so nice because they are like actually teammates and it's easier to hang out with them.”
For many parents, their daughter playing football might be a scary thing, but Makaylie has unwavering support from her parents Nicole and Tom. Playing has meant more than just having fun after school, she has also taken up the family business. Her father played football in high school and so did her mother.
“Her dad was an O-lineman, I was an O-lineman, so it's so awesome that she is carrying on that Howell tradition,” Nicole Howell said. Mrs. Howell played football for a total of six years, a couple of them in high school in Tehachapi. The Howells moved to Atascadero only a few years ago and have been blanketed with the support for their daughter from the coaches, players and the community.
“When I did it, nobody wanted a girl to play on their team,” Nicole Howell remembers, “and I just thought it was honestly the most incredible thing ever that a coach was willing to sit there and teach her, and let her play, and let her be apart of this team and I'm just really impressed with Atascadero and their leadership and how good they are to the kids, it's amazing.”
Mrs. Howell said she was never scared for her daughter and only wanted to instill confidence in her that she can do anything that she sets her mind to. During the summer weights program Makaylie would come home excited and tell her mom that the coach had asked her to play football.
“Then one day she was like ‘mom do you think I could actually play football?’” Mrs. Howell said, “And I was like ‘babe you can do whatever you set your mind to,’ and then she came home the next day and was like ‘I told the coach I'm going to play football.’” Makaylie began the season with just the intention of playing one year of football for the experience, but when asked if she wants to continue playing offensive tackle she responded saying, “I feel like I'm going to play tackle as long as I can, but then, when I can't anymore, I'm going to be a kicker.”
However, Makaylie’s number one goal for the season is to outscore her dad. Mr. Howell played both offensive and defensive line in high school and once scored a defensive touchdown, tallying him six career points. Makaylie has already converted two point-after-touchdowns (PAT) this season, bringing her total to two.
Makaylie can be seen protecting her quarterback's blindside at any freshman game this fall as she dons the number 67 with a sun-kissed brown ponytail flowing out the back of her helmet.