Islip middle-schooler Addison DeFalco started out in theater and branched out into football this past year. Islip Bulletin sat down with DeFalco and her proud coach, John Cox, talk about what it takes to play the sport at the middle school level.
Q: What was it like suiting up for your first game?
DeFalco: I really wasn’t expecting to play in the first game I played in—my coach said if we played the fifth quarter I would play. I was nervous. But it was really exciting when I went on. It was surprising, I didn’t think I could block anyone. It was exciting to go on and hear the cheerleaders cheering for me and have my family there.
Q: Your father had said you were in also in theater? What’s the difference between being on the field as a team and being onstage with a cast?
DeFalco: My dad always says, “Think of sports like a role in a play.” Left guard for football was my role in a play.
I would give everything I would on stage and brought it to the field.
Q: Left guard is quite a position to play as a young lady? Did you work up to it?
DeFalco: I originally wanted to be a kicker, but my coach said they don’t really use kickers until high school. It was fun to wind up in a position I didn’t try out for. I didn’t think he’d find me a position I was good at, so I was very excited when he told me about this position.
Q: How do you get on with your teammates?
DeFalco: My teammates treat me like everyone else. They don’t treat me like a girl. They treat me like one of the guys. This other team we played was like, “there’s a girl on your team? That’s so cool!”
Q: How did you get to playing football? Did you play other sports?
DeFalco: Yeah, I played softball. There was no theater this year for school and I didn’t want to do nothing, so I went out for the football team.
Q: What do you love about playing? Your dad said you love hitting people.
DeFalco: I do like hitting people, but it’s the experience. I love my coaches. I love my teammates; they were all really nice to me. I guess I just enjoy the people I’m around.
Q: How about your parents? Were they wor- ried about you playing such a rough sport in a rough position?
DeFalco: No, I don’t think they were worried. They were supportive of me. My parents told a lot of their friends and they were all happy for me.
Q: What did it feel like having the cheerlead- ers cheer for you?
DeFalco: It was exciting. You go out and you hear them cheer for the whole team, but when you hear your own name, it’s even more exciting.
Q: In your position, what is your responsibility?
DeFalco: Blocking the people on the other team so that the quarterback can get the ball to a receiver.
Q: During practice, what kind of drills do you do?
DeFalco: They separate the skilled guys and the linemen; the skilled guys throw balls around and the linemen would hit bags.
Q: What do you think it means to younger girls to see you play?
DeFalco: I hope they see bravery to go out and play something that girls don’t normally have the opportunity to play. I hope they see that people aren’t
DeFalco: I hope so. I’m hoping in just assuming what young girls want to do. I hope they see they can do it.
Q: How did this season go? Do you feel good about it? What are some things you think you could improve on?
DeFalco: It went well. We were 3-3. If I play again, I hope we do better with win- ning. There’s obviously things to improve on like being stronger; I could get my legs going to block more people.
Q: What advice would you give to a younger girl looking to try out? Or even a younger person trying something that isn’t a traditional activity foragirloraboy?
DeFalco: I’d say do it. I’m all about boys trying dance or girls playing foot- ball. Never say you can’t do that. Do what you want to do. My parents raised me to believe I could do what I want to do.
Q: What is your background as a football coach?
COX: I spent two years as an assistant coach at the Islip Middle School, under my magnificent mentor, Jason Vitale. This is my fifth season as the head coach of the middle school program... Ultimate- ly, I am very passionate about this annual opportunity to make a difference in stu- dents’ lives, in a very different way than you can in the classroom.
Q: What stood out to you about Addison’s tryout for the team? (e.g. her agility, speed)
COX: Addison was visibly apprehen- sive during her tryout, but she immedi- ately showcased focus, eagerness to learn, and potential.
Q: What made Addison a good candidate for left guard?
COX:Addison remarked that she wanted to be the team’s kicker, but it broke my heart to initially inform her that our middle school program hardly, if ever, kicks. I did not want to discourage Addy from playing or being a part of the team, so I reluctantly broke the news to her, after the first couple of tryout days... Subsequently, I approached Addy with the proposition to play on the offensive line, and she enthusiastically accepted the challenge.
Q: What is most challenging as a football athlete for middle school-aged players?
COX: Middle school players and stu- dents are at an awkward but beautiful age, when they are first discovering who they are and desire to be as young human beings. With that, coaches must help shape each player’s perspective about who they are presenting to be on the field or court. It does not mean that a player is typecast for the rest of their sporting career, but it sets each individual up to have success and gain confidence playing their sport(s) of choice.
Q: How do you feel Addison will progress as a football player as she enters high school?
(Please note that she has said she’d like to continue on in high school as a kicker) COX: Addison is the type of person
who seemingly conquers what she sets out to accomplish. The willingness and determination that Addison portrayed on the field leads me to believe she will prog- ress nicely and, certainly, will be able to positively contribute to the football program. Whether she continues to fight hard on the offensive line, gets the oppor- tunity to progress as a kicker, or chooses to pursue a different position altogether, Addy will triumph.
Q: Describe the team camaraderie. Has the inclusion of a young lady on the team boosted morale? Has it created any issues or obstacles? Have other teams you’ve played voiced support or derision for inclusion of a female player?
COX: The camaraderie on the team was very strong. I emphasized the need to band together and be like a second family to one another. This group was a spirited group who wanted to perform at a higher level each game, and that is exactly what they did. It is about fostering the growth of that camaraderie, including discovering the fine line between individual responsibilities and the interdependence of our team’s success. It is about establishing a common goal of gaining character, learning fundamentals, and striving for perfection.
In my eyes, the camaraderie and morale of the team did not vary just for having a young lady on it. Addy is the second young lady who I have coached, and she was not the only young lady in the division.
Overall, there seems to be a strong support for female players. I do not feel anything to the contrary, not do I have evidence that anyone else has any nega- tive feelings towards the idea.
Q: What advice would you give other girls inter- ested in joining the football team?
COX: Anyone of any gender will always be welcomed on any football team that I coach. If someone is passionate about watching football or loves playing it with their friends and family, middle school is the perfect age and time to see if it is truly something you want to devote your time and energy into playing.