When a viral video was posted in August showing U.S. soccer star Carli Lloyd kicking 55-yard field goal at an NFL training camp, it struck up an online debate of whether Lloyd or another woman could become a kicker for an NFL team.
Voorhees’ Adrianna Brocco didn’t need to see the video of Lloyd’s kick to motivate her to try out football. She was already playing.
Brocco, 12, is the lone girl on the Eastern Junior Vikings 115-pound team in the South Jersey Independent Youth Football League. After playing soccer for a number of years, Brocco told her parents she wanted to drop the sport in favor of football. Now, she’s the kicker for the Junior Vikings.
“I’ve always wanted to play football,” Brocco said. “I always had an interest in it. It was in second grade when I fell in love with football.”
The entire Brocco family roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Adrianna may be the biggest fan of them all. She’s attended Steelers training camp and has autographs from a number of players, watches the team on a regular basis and even did a fantasy football draft with her dad, Troy, this past season.
There’s no questioning Adrianna’s love of football. But when she asked her parents if she could play, there was a question whether they would say yes.
Adrianna’s mother, Brandy, was 100 percent supportive of her daughter picking up football. Troy, who coaches Adrianna’s younger brother with one of the Junior Vikings’ other teams, was a little more apprehensive.
“My thought wasn’t that she was going to be a kicker,” Troy said. “My thought was, she’s going to play football and I wasn’t thinking in the kicker mentality.”
Jamie Russen, head coach of the Eastern Junior Vikings 115-pound team, ran into Troy and Adrianna at dinner one night earlier this year and found out about Adrianna’s desire to play. Knowing her soccer background, he felt Adrianna would be a natural fit as a kicker.
“I was out to dinner and her dad came up to me with Adrianna and said she wants to play football,” Russen said. “I don’t think he thought I’d say, ‘Of course! Come on, let’s go.’”
“When Jamie approached me, he said, she played soccer she already has the technique and the tools,” Troy said. “We just have to teach her how to apply it to football. He said, ‘I promise you, no one is going to touch her.’”
After playing flag football in the spring, Adrianna began participating in summer workouts with her new team. She quickly learned kicking a football is very different from kicking a soccer ball and admitted there were some struggles early on. To help her pick up a football kicking technique, Russen had Adrianna go to Five-Star Kicking in Berlin.
“From a confidence standpoint, she always had the ability to kick the ball,” Russen said. “ It was just getting comfortable with the guys, the snap, the hold. There’s a lot more to it than just lining up a ball and kicking it.”
Adrianna said attending the kicking school was a game-changer. She began to hit field goals at a more consistent basis and gained confidence as a result.
“I wasn’t sure if the guys were going to accept me because I’m a girl and my kicks weren’t as good,” she said. “When my kicks started getting better, they really started to pick me up.”
In the South Jersey Independent Youth Football League, teams can choose to either run or pass or kick for extra points after a touchdown as in high school, college and professional football. However, in the SJIYFL, a kick conversion is worth two points and a run or pass conversion is only worth one since kicking is seen as a harder skill at the youth level. This made Adrianna’s role on the team even more valuable.
Outside of her short stature and Troy Polamalu-like hair flowing out of her helmet, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between Adrianna and her teammates. Adrianna takes part in all of the team’s workouts, fills in as a wide receiver and defensive back during passing drills, and fits in perfectly with the rest of the guys.
“It’s not even a thought,” Russen said of having a girl on the team. “It never crosses our minds that there’s anyone different out here. She fit in from day one.”
Adrianna made her debut on Sept. 21 as Eastern played Medford in its season-opener. Eastern was slated to kick off to start the game and Adrianna recalled how nervous she was leading up to the opening kick.
“ I was the first person to start the game, so that was a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “But I trusted my teammates that they were going to help me.”
Adrianna made her presence known right away. On the opening kick, Adrianna booted the ball over the heads of the Medford returners. She would have more success later in the game, making four of her six extra point attempts and helping Eastern recover two onside kicks in a 44-0 win for the Junior Vikings.
“That 4-of-6, she got us eight extra points in the game,” Russen said. “That’s a whole other touchdown. That’s a big deal.”
Now that she’s started, there’s no slowing down Adrianna’s kicking career. She has a roadmap in her mind where she’s trying out for Eastern Regional High School’s varsity team in two seasons.
“By the time I get to high school, I want to either make varsity or JV my first year,” she said. “By my sophomore year, I definitely want to make varsity.”
Adrianna has a dream of one day kicking at the NCAA level and maybe even in the NFL. Her parents and coach don’t believe there’s anything slowing her down.
“I don’t think there’s any limit to what she can or can’t do,” Russen said. “She works hard at it, she studies it. There’s nothing stopping her.”