Minnesota West: Kicking it with the guys
WORTHINGTON — The new kicker at Minnesota West is used to standing out. And the ability to kick a football isn’t the only reason.
Rachel Evans made a name for herself in high school, kicking her way to being the first female to play in a Texas high school all-star football game. Soon, she hopes to be making a name for herself at the collegiate level — and not only because of her gender.
“Everyone’s been so welcoming,” she said of her teammates and coaches at Minnesota West. “They’ve been so nice. I’m injured right now so people have been praying for me and really they just treat me like one of the guys.”
Evans’ journey to playing college football began during her junior year at Godley High School in Godley, Texas. She was a football trainer and a member of the soccer team when the Wildcats’ kicker graduated following Evans’ sophomore year. Her coach approached her and asked if she’d be interested in joining the football team.
Despite the fact she has always loved football, Evans was a bit apprehensive at first, having never kicked a football before. Just to give it a shot, she attended some kicking camps where she was on the receiving end of some curious stares and questioning from camp instructors. But once she got the hang of it, she knew football was something she wanted to do.
When she joined the team at Godley during her junior year, however, it took her teammates — all boys — some convincing before they welcomed her onto the team.
“It was hard but it had helped that I was the trainer before, so they all knew me,” Evans said. “Still, Godley’s a small town and in Texas football is huge. When the guys saw a girl come in and take away some of the spotlight that could be going to one of the other guys they didn’t really like it.”
Evans let her right leg do the talking.
In the Wildcats’ third game of the season that year, they were playing Ferris and the game came down to an extra point. Evans came out and knocked it between the uprights to win it for Godley.
“I kicked it and all of a sudden the whole team surrounded me and was tossing me and pushing me around,” she said. “It was so exciting just to be in that moment.”
After that game, her teammates knew she was serious about football and that she belonged on the team. She didn’t have trouble fitting in anymore, even if she was getting quite a bit of attention from local media and people around town.
“Things cooled down and I was just a normal player,” she said. “I got yelled at by the coaches like everybody else. I had to run like everybody else. They just started treating me like one of the guys.”
After a successful career at Godley, Evans was chosen to play for the West team in the North Texas Bowl/DFW East-West Classic, making her the first female to play in a Texas high school all-star game. More than 100 players were chosen to participate in the game but, as usual, Evans found herself in the spotlight.
When she first arrived for the game, she said people were asking her if she was the trainer. When she went onto the field to kick during pregame warm-ups, she said everyone was staring. Like everyone before, they saw she was for real. Still, she received plenty of attention.
“Before the game people were yelling at me, wanting to take a picture with me, asking for my autograph; it was crazy,” she said. “Before halftime I got to do an interview with ESPN. So that was really cool.”
The next level
It was her ability — not her gender — that made Evans a known commodity among college coaches looking for a new kicker. Prior to her senior year, she had hoped to play soccer in college. With some assistance in the recruiting process, she was able to get her name out to college football coaches.
Evans said she spent essentially three straight days on the phone with college coaches from the junior college to Division II levels, all of whom wanted her to come kick for their team.
“That’s when it hit me that I could do this,” she said. “I just thought, ‘I’m going to play college football.’ I honestly didn’t think it would go this far.”
One of those coaches was Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder. He saw footage of Evans — who said she has made field goals from further than 50 yards out in practice — kicking at Godley and was “happily surprised” with what he saw. He made contact with her in late June and found that not only was she looking to play football, but she also wanted to get into an agriculture program and had family in Minnesota and Iowa.
It seemed like the perfect fit.
“She wanted an opportunity and I was happy to do that for her,” Linder said. “She’s going to help us tremendously.”
Like everyone else
Evans’ gender never came into question during the recruiting process and it hasn’t since she’s joined the team, Linder said. That’s exactly the way both he and Evans want it.
“The guys look at her as a football athlete, not a female athlete who plays football,” Linder said. “She wants to be treated like anyone else on the team. She has a great mentality, great work ethic and a super personality. Her gender hasn’t come into play at all and that’s the way I wanted it to be for her. I think she got that feeling from me immediately. I’m not looking at her differently than anyone else on the team.”
Evans, during her short time in Worthington, feels she has found a good spot for the next step in her career. The rest of the Bluejays have the right attitude, work ethic and love for the game that she was looking for in a football team.
Perhaps more importantly, Minnesota West is a place where she believes she’ll be able to grow.
“I expect to get better at what I’m doing,” Evans said. “I expected to get respect and I got that right away. I want to grow with the team and keep getting better with the team. Hopefully after this I can go on and play football at a Division I or II school. But, either way, I just want to get better.”