Sports

Jackson State University Welcomes First Female Kicker in NCAA Division I at an HBCU

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Charles A. Smith/JSU Chief Photographer

In a historic moment for college football, Jackson State University proudly introduces Leilani Armenta as the first female kicker in NCAA Division I at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Armenta, a Mexican American woman, made her mark during the team’s home game against Bethune-Cookman University on September 23, 2023, at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Mississippi.

Armenta expressed her initial nervousness stepping onto the field but focused on the game at hand. She reflected on the historical significance of her accomplishment, recognizing the positive impact it had on numerous people.

Armenta’s journey has been even more remarkable considering she is recovering from ACL surgery performed last year, kicking throughout the season with the support of a brace. Despite the physical challenge, her 25-yard kick-off in the late stages of the game played a pivotal role in Jackson State’s 22-16 victory over Bethune-Cookman University.

The freshman communications major, who chose Jackson State University for its strong program in her field, spoke of her passion for football cultivated since high school. During her high school days in Ventura, California, Armenta, also a soccer player, drew attention to her talent as a kicker. Despite tearing her ACL in her senior year while playing soccer, doctors gave her the green light to pursue football, a decision that shaped her journey.

Joseph Goyeneche, Armenta’s high school football head coach, praised her skills, noting that she was the best freshman kicker they had and performed exceptionally in both extra points and field goals.

In her high school career, Armenta achieved a success rate of 98 out of 105 extra points and a perfect 5 for 5 in-field goals, with her longest kick covering 30 yards.

Armenta, now making a 46-yard kick in practice, is working with coaches to enhance her leg strength and kicking distance. Although she has yet to attempt a field goal this season, her former coach believes she will be ready when the time comes.

T.C. Taylor, the head football coach at Jackson State University, emphasized Armenta’s vital role on the team and the warm reception she received from fans and teammates. Her arrival addressed a significant need for the team, with the coach expressing gratitude for her impact.

Leilani Armenta’s journey aligns with other female athletes who have made history in college football. Notable instances include Katie Hnida scoring in an NCAA Division I game in 2003 and Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller becoming the first woman to score in a Power Five college game in 2020. Haley Van Voorhis recently broke new ground as the first female football player to appear in an NCAA football game outside of the kicker position.

Despite facing critics who question her place on the team, Armenta remains undeterred, viewing her ACL injury as a blessing that fueled her determination. Coach Taylor described her as a competitor and expressed his desire for her increased involvement in games as she continues to regain strength.

Armenta focused on the present, has set her sights on sticking with college football, expressing love for kicking. While welcoming any professional opportunities that may arise, she remains dedicated to honing her skills and contributing to her team’s success.

“If it happens, I would love it. If anyone wants to pick me up, I’m more than happy to do it. That would be awesome,” Armenta said, looking toward a future that holds the promise of further accomplishments in her football journey.

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