(Photo credit: Shutterstock.com / Gorodenkoff)
The first female HBCU football player is a white woman. Leilani Armenta etched her name in the history books on Sept. 23 as she made the opening kickoff for Jackson State‘s game against SWAC opponent Bethune-Cookman.
Things we love to see 🔥@GoJSUTigersSOC’s Leilani Armenta is filling in at kicker tonight for @gojsutigersfb 👏 #ThatsaW pic.twitter.com/xs3d4qpmpl
— espnW (@espnW) September 23, 2023
However, the game’s opening kick—a modest squib that traveled just a few yards—quickly sparked online criticism.
That may have been the worst kick in college football ever … just to say there is a woman on the team. Couldn’t you pick a woman with some leg?
— Tom Buckley (@BullheadRanch) September 26, 2023
The on-air announcers seemed to frame her as a last-minute addition to the team, plucked from the women’s soccer program due to other injuries that Jackson State had sustained. Between the in-game commentary and the nature of the squib kick, it might have appeared that JSU only chose to play her for publicity.
But that’s not the whole story.Armenta was not just some random soccer player called upon to create a viral moment. She boasts an impressive background in high school football, having spent four years as a kicker. She concluded her high school career with a slew of stats: 98-of-105 point-after attempts made, 5-of-5 field goal attempts, 3,552 kickoff yards, two touchbacks, and three onside recoveries. Furthermore, she broke five kicking records within her California county. She even revealed that she played her entire senior season with an ACL injury, for which she still wears a brace today.
Varsity Career Stats Thank you to my team and coaches.
98/105 PAT made (2 blocked)5/5 FG made3552 KO yards (2 TB) (3 onside recovery) 5 county kicking records 2021 First team kicker Marmonte League 2022 Honorable mention kicker Marmonte League pic.twitter.com/yEbcq8K8NO
— Leilani Armenta 🌺 (@LeilaniArmenta) December 13, 2022
Under the leadership of first-year head coach T.C. Taylor, who succeeded Deion Sanders, Jackson State secured a 22-16 win, moving them to a 3-2 record for the season.
Source: Rolling Out