Whenever the kicking unit for the Cactus Shadows High School freshman football team takes the field, there is an added measure of pressure to block for the offensive line.
On top of trying to successfully convert a field goal or a point after touchdown, those offensive lineman know who stands behind them ready to send the ball between the field goal posts: female kicker Karli Koskovich.
So far this season, that offensive line has done their job as she has yet to take a hit from the defense.
Koskovich is in a unique predicament. She is a highly competitive athlete and that competitiveness has helped her find her way to the football field kicking field goals and kickoffs for the freshman team.
However, Koskovich said this isn’t an idea that developed recently, but rather started brewing when she was seven years old.
She said her dad, current Paradise Valley High School assistant coach Greg Koskovich, used to coach for a youth football team in Anthem. After her soccer practices, Karli said she would head down to her dad’s practice fields and, with the help of one of the football players, she would just start kicking.
Karli said that start blossomed into eight years worth of kicking field goals on the side. She said what really got her noticed was when she was kicking field goals after a Paradise Valley game.
She said while on the field, CSHS head coach Mike Hudnutt saw her kicking and inquired about her.
However, Karli’s mom, Barbie Koskovich, said her daughter was a bit unsure on whether she wanted to kick in competitive games. However, Mrs. Koskovich said that all changed over the summer as Karli decided she wanted to get in contact with coach Hudnutt to express her interest.
“I said ‘great, it’s all up to you. This is your deal. If you really want to do it, we’ll support you,’” Mrs. Koskovich said in a Sept. 20 interview. “And so she sent him an e-mail and he responded right away and from that point forward, she went to practice over the summer and has never stopped since.”
Joining the team was an adjustment not only for Karli, but for coaches, players and even spectators or parents of other players.
Karli said in the early goings, she used to receive a little bit of criticism. Mrs. Koskovich called that criticism “surprised responses.”
However, Karli said from the negativity, she has learned a good lesson.
“I just have to look past that and realize what’s coming and that I am the only one doing this,” Karli said. “If that person, if it was a man, were doing this and they were a girl, would have to think to themselves if they would actually be doing this and have the nerve to do this.”
Karli said she got to the point of rising above the criticism because of her team, both players and coaches.
Freshman head coach Adrian Drew said he is proud of the way his players have responded to having Karli join the team.
“They treat her like she’s the little sister,” Coach Drew said. “They’re very protective of her. I made it clear from day one of the summer when she first came that she was a part of this team and she needed to be treated like so and they’ve looked after her and taken care of her as if she was one of the boys.”
Coach Drew isn’t the only one who has noticed the effort the team puts in. Karli said she appreciates all of what the team has done for her.
In particular, she said all of the freshman coaches as well as the varsity kicker Maverick Cashman all share in her success.
While the team has been supportive, Karli said she still gets surprised looks at school but ultimately, those people turn supportive.
“It’s been fun seeing all of these different people see that there’s a girl on the team and that she is actually doing this,” she said.
That message that a girl can play on the football team is one Karli said she hopes other girls who might be considering doing something where boys are the predominant gender.
“Even if you’re a girl, you can still do things because you can prove yourself and be better than a boy,” she said.
Mrs. Koskovich said seeing Karli suit up has been an inspiration to everyone who has seen her play, both boy and girl.
“When she did her very first kickoff at our very first game, I could tell the parents were looking to see if this was real. Can she do it?” Mrs. Koskovich said. “She then kicked about a 40-yard kickoff to kick-off the game. I felt the look of parents, her classmates and her teammates saying ‘Yup, we knew she could do this.’ From that point forward, it’s just been great.”
That first game also brought a powerful memory for Karli.
“I would look up and see the entire stands filled and every time they called my name, (the fans) would jump up and scream ‘yeah Karli,’” she said. “That’s probably one of the biggest motivators that just really helped me get forward.”
As far as continuing her journey as a placekicker, Karli said she has not decided on if she will continue or not. However, her mom said whatever Karli puts her mind to, she’ll do.
“I would say nothing is predictable with Karli,” Mrs. Koskovich said. “If she wants to, Karli will find a way to do it. If it means working both soccer and football in, as she has done this year, then she’ll do it again.”
News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 623-445-2738