Enterprise staff writer
Blasted from 40 yards out, another ball from the Blue Devil kicker sails through the uprights at Halden Field.
Several more efforts are dead on target and the tee is moved back a few yards.
Two more kicks are good before the third attempt hits the crossbar and falls short.
Good height. Most kicks have plenty of distance, and thereÕs accuracy galore.
ÒNice job, Sammy,Ó comes a shout of encouragement from Davis High football coach Steve Smyte. A thumbs up from a teammate follows.
Off goes this Devil, shagging balls. Place-kicking is a lonely world. While the rest of the team comes together for offensive and defensive drills, they who boot the ball live in solitary confinement.
LetÕs go talk to the DHS kicker … ThereÕs a break in the rigors of this weekÕs two-a-day practices. Clearly, Sammy Houck will enjoy the company, a little attention.
But as you get nearer, you notice something about this athlete. ThereÕs a long, long braid of hair flowing from underneath the helmet. The closer the visitor gets, the softer this football playerÕs facial features get. Once ready to introduce himself, HouckÕs visitor discovers the unique quality Sammy has brought to Blue Devil football Ñ this kicker is a girl.
So, Samantha, howÕs that working out?
Ò(The guys) have been really accepting,Ó says the senior, second-year varsity performer. ÒWhen I first came, I think they were like, ÔUmmmm, a girl?Õ because I interrupt their zone a bit.
ÒBut IÕve gotten to know the guys, and they are a great bunch. TheyÕve helped me learn a lot.Ó
Despite making the roster in 2009, Houck saw no action, buried behind one of the schoolÕs most accomplished kickers ever, distance record-holder Chase Brunson. But this fall should be different.
Penciled in as the DHS field-goal and extra-point leg, Houck thought for a while sheÕd see some game-time play on the line, too. But shoulder injuries have refocused her role as primarily the kicker:
ÒIÕve worked with the linemen a lot … and theyÕre really a great bunch of guys who are constantly helping me learn the game and plays. I like getting the opportunity to work with them all and feel like I am just another team member.Ó
Which she is, according to Smyte …
ÒHer work ethic is excellent. She hits the weight room hard and is always there, working to be better on the field. IÕve been impressed.Ó
Houck is a native Davis girl who became interested in football when she attended a football meeting in junior high. Up until ninth grade, basketball, soccer, cross country and track (shot put) were her athletic paths.
But after hearing about high school football three years ago, her familyÕs interest in the sport helped her make that unusual decision Ñ to play football as a female.
ÒIÕve been around football since I was little,Ó Houck explains. ÒMy dad and grandpa have watched, talked and tossed around the ball with me and my brother and I slowly learned the game.
ÒMy dad, grandma and grandpa took me to a 49er game … being in the stands really brought the game to my attention.Ó
But play football?
Houck was impressed by coaches Mike Satre and Ty Brown, the high school representatives who gave the students a pep talk that day in ninth grade.
ÒAfter (meeting with) them, I began to relax a bit (about whether or not to play with the guys),Ó Houck recalls. ÒThe two were nice and treated me just like another player. That, in itself, made me feel calm.Ó
As much as she wanted to play line, trouble with her shoulders dating back six years now (one pops out of alignment regularly) has kept her from being on the line in a game.
SamanthaÕs mom Darcie is an attorney and dad Matthew works on various projects as a handyman while keeping the home fires burning. Little brother Ricky plays Junior Blue Devil football and little sister Bella is becoming an accomplished fencer.
Grandma and grandpa Ñ Judy and Richard Houck Ñ are fixtures at SamanthaÕs games and Richard continues to provide advice and encouragement for his field goal-kicking kin. There are even spirited games of Madden 2010 in the Houck household.
Outside of school and football, Houck likes to Òdo a lot of things.Ó Writing, drawing and acting have been in her wake, including a speaking part in an Acme stage presentation. She still enjoys playing soccer, watching all sports and Òsometimes cleaning my room.Ó
Helping Richard with projects and traveling, which she doesnÕt do a lot of, are also moments outside the gridiron that bring her joy.
Houck isnÕt sure what the future holds upon graduation from DHS, but confirms Òa college is probably in my future.Ó
ÒI (feel) out of place at times, but most of the time … I realize how much these guys are my family. I respect them all. The coaches are like uncles and dads. Teammates are like big brothers, always helping me out and talking over things with me,Ó Houck smiles.
Quarterback Dane Denkers is part of a long line of teammates who encourage and advise Houck. The veteran players know how important a field goal here, or an extra point there, will be in 2010.
And no Blue Devil cares that those kicks might be coming from a girl.
Notes: In recent history, the Blue Devil program has seen a few other females in the program. Varsity K Diana Lakeland played for Davis in 2006. Senior basketball players Malika and Khaliya Wilkins played junior varsity and freshman ball respectively as ninth-graders. … Smyte will leave kickoffs and punting to other DHS players, but expects Houck to contribute this fall. … ÒShe is a perfectionist,Ó Satre remembers. ÒSammy would kick a field goal in practice, but if it was off center four or five yards, sheÕd not be satisfied. She wanted it dead center every time.Ó Satre was varsity special teams coach in 2009. HeÕs head JV coach this fall.
Ñ Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8056.