Sept. 11, 2012
By Jourdan Rodrigue, Digital Communications Intern
Two life-changing kicks. Two years apart.
The first was on a Friday night, under gleaming stadium lights. It was in front of a crowd that rose off the bleachers and screamed for a girl whose long braid with a pink bow on the end stuck out of her football helmet.
She lined up with the placeholder, behind the rest of the special teams that she could barely see over. She took two steps back, and one to the side. The whistle blew, the football snapped into the placeholder's hands.
She kicked, and the ball sailed thirty yards through the California sky, through the goalposts, and thudded to the ground behind the end zone.
Whitney Kanavel had made her first three points as a Varsity kicker on the Santa Teresa Saints football team as a junior.
The second kick was in her first game as a member of the Arizona State Women's Soccer team.
To Kanavel, the two kicks are only interconnected because each marked the beginning of a new chapter in her life. Other than that, the two are very different.
"I don't think that [choosing to play] football had anything to do with soccer," Kanavel said, "it took me out of my comfort zone and it was more of a personal thing rather than relating to soccer."
Being "out of her comfort zone" meant being the only XX in a locker room full of XYs. It meant putting herself in potentially dangerous situations, and it meant being under constant public scrutiny. She stuck out. If she missed a kick, everyone would know.
"I was always being followed by video cameras and people wanting to do interviews but I just wanted to go and play and enjoy the season," Kanavel said. She even was followed from football practice to soccer practice directly after.
All the special attention translated over to the football field. Kanavel said that her coach made rules for the team where she was concerned.
"I was getting some special treatment...like if the guys cussed around me, they'd have to run or do pushups, and I wouldn't do the running because I'd have soccer to go to," Kanavel said.
Her coach also took her out of situations where she could get tackled. This was for her safety, but all of the new rules made Kanavel even more of an outsider.
"I would rather the guys been themselves because I wanted to fit in as easily as possible," she said.
Kanavel's first kick in a game as a football player came and went, and as the season progressed, she found herself meshing with the boys much more easily. She especially felt like a part of the team after Santa Teresa's game against Live Oak High.
"We were losing in the first half, and then there were fireworks [it was Live Oak's Homecoming Game] and it kind of brought all of us together and sparked something in our team. We won, and I felt a part of that and it was the first time that I actually felt a part of the team," Kanavel said.
Kanavel finished that football season with an average of 3.7 points per game for a total of 22 points. She also finished with a charter bus full of brothers.
"They'd stick up for me and include me in their jokes," she said, "and they'd say `me and my bro's...and my sister' when referring to the team."
Kanavel decided to focus all of her energy on soccer her senior year, and when she got an email from a coach at Arizona State, she made the decision to attend the university.
"I feel that I've been wanting to play at this level for awhile," she said. "To be able to play in the Pac 12 is an incredible accomplishment for me."
After waiting for her turn to play in four consecutive games, Kanavel finally got her chance when the Sun Devils faced Missouri on August 31st. Again, she was out of her comfort zone, and again, she adjusted.
"Well, I went in with only thirty minutes left in the second half and was put in a position that I had never played before, so that was nerve-wracking," Kanavel said, "but once I started touching the ball a little bit and getting a feel for the speed of play, I felt a little more comfortable."
Kanavel said that she will continue to adapt to this new chapter in her life, just as she had as a football player her junior year.
"Once I can start working my way into getting more playing time and possibly being a starter, everything will then feel complete. So until then, I just have to keep doing what I'm doing and focus on getting better everyday in all aspects of my life."
Note: Kanavel was substituted into the Sun Devils' game against No. 10 Pepperdine on Sunday. She played for a total of 24 minutes and contributed to the Devils upset of Pepperdine 1-0. Click here to view highlights from ASU's tournament play during the Sun Devil Desert Classic.