Conventional wisdom says girls do not play football. Then again, when do high school kids use conventional wisdom to make decisions?
For Dublin High junior Grace Toney, conventional wisdom went right out the window when earlier in the fall she decided to give football a shot and kick for her school's football team.
“The idea (to play) came from my friends that play on the varsity -– they put it into my head,” said Toney.
Toney’s older sister Makenna gave football a shot when she was a freshman, so Grace had a person to talk with about a girl playing in a traditionally boys’ sport.
“(Makenna) didn’t have a good experience, so she told me about her year to warn me,” said Toney said of her older sister. “But she also told me about all the good things about playing.”
Toney had already informally tried out for the team and was encouraged to try out, a decision she ultimately made after talking with her sister.
Of course, there was convincing her mom.
“When I first mentioned it to her, she was stunned,” said Toney of telling her mom. “She was like what are you talking about? But in the end, she knew it made me happy.”
One final potential hurdle was informing her club soccer coach, as Toney is a member of the very competitive Pleasanton Rage soccer club.
“At first, I am not going to lie, I didn’t want to tell him,” Toney explained, who is also now playing her second season on the Dublin girls varsity soccer team. “Practices were overlapping, and my mom said soccer has to come first. I told my (soccer) coach, and I don’t think he was necessarily happy for me, but after a while he was cool with it.”
Initially Toney was fighting for a spot with the varsity and while doing well on place kicking, she was falling behind in terms of distance on kickoffs.
“It was like I could be third-string on the varsity or get minutes on the junior varsity,” explained Toney. “I wanted the minutes.”
She easily won over her new teammates.
“On the football team, Grace was seen as our new kicker when she came out and another great addition to the team as a whole,” said Tim Conrad, the head coach of the Dublin JV team. “It seemed to me the players really didn't put any emphasis on the fact that she was a girl. They were proud of her work ethic and leadership.”
Toney handled the place-kicking for the Gaels, making her one field goal attempt of the season, knocking it through from 35-yards, and only missed one extra-point, that coming in a non-league game at Alameda.
“I blame that one on the field,” said Toney with a laugh. “That came on a grass field. I was very consistent on my extra points.”
“Her lone field goal try was from 35 yards, in a big EBAL game against Foothill. Making that sealed the win for us late in the fourth quarter,” said Conrad. “She did only miss one extra point this year, and it was really my fault. We were playing on a dirt field in Alameda with a lot of holes. Every other kick she has tried has been perfect. We are so proud of her.”
Of course, there is the main point –- the physicality of football. Did Toney take a hit or make a tackle?
“I didn’t tackle this year,” said Toney. “Against Livermore, some guys got through the line, but it was more of a brush. I try not to think (about getting hit). I just keep my eye on where the ball is going to go and not look at the line.”
Now that her initial foray into football is over, what will her senior season hold?
“I plan on kicking for the varsity,” said Toney, straight and to the point.
With the varsity kicker graduating, Toney has a good shot at winning the varsity job next season. In just her first season, Toney says when she practices her kickoffs, she is consistently knocking it down between the 5-and-10 yard line. With a whole off-season to practice and work on her kicking, the end zone is realistically attainable.
“Grace will have very good success at the varsity level,” said Conrad. “She has the right mindset and ability to go and play anywhere she wants.”
But, kicking off in the EBAL means having to go downfield on the kickoff and deal with the physicality of football.
“I’ve always felt I could tackle,” said Toney. “I’ve never practiced tackling, but I am confident in my strength and ability to do it.”
Conrad has no doubt Toney will handle what’s put in front of her and expects her role to expand next season.
“She and I have talked a lot about her tackling so she can do kickoff and punt as well. She's very good at both,” said Conrad. “(Grace) told me she's going to work on it -- she really wants to be out there. With a full off-season, she'll have no trouble getting ready for it.”
Cross Country: Dublin boys, Granada girls take home titles
Dublin took the title in the boys’ race, with the Granada girls taking the title on the ladies’ side during an East Bay Athletics League (EBAL) meet Saturday, Nov. 6 at Newhall Park in Concord. Both races were 3-miles.
The Gaels finished with 33 points, with Granada finishing second with 45 points. Monte Vista (89), Dougherty Valley (98), De La Salle (127), Amador Valley (171), California (206), Foothill (227), Livermore (260), and San Ramon Valley (276) are the other teams.
Individually, Oscar Gomez of De La Salle took the crown, clocking in at 15:16.9. Dublin took the next two spots with Sharvin Manjrekar (15:17.5), and Daniel Trampe (15:29.0).
On the girls’ side, Granada finished with 40 points, with Dougherty Valley running second with 52 points. Monte Vista (74), Amador Valley (130), Dublin (158), California (159), Carondelet (182), San Ramon Valley (187), Foothill (214), and Livermore (222) finished out the field.
Freshman Sabrina Noriega of Dougherty Valley was the winner with a 18:02.6, with teammate Rhea Braganza running second at 19:11.8 Jana Barron of Granada was third at 18:16.7