When Lauren Luttrell first tried out to be a place kicker for the Virginia Tech football team last fall, it was a way for her to appease her boss at Famous Dave’s Barbeque in Fredericksburg. But by the time her second tryout arrived Saturday morning, Luttrell was so determined to make the squad that she would set up trash cans and a band director’s staircase as a makeshift goal post in order to practice.
Despite her best efforts, Luttrell’s quest to become the first female place kicker in school history fell short during a 10-person walk-on tryout on Virginia Tech’s practice field. The freshman said she made seven of her eight field goals, but the coaching staff was looking for more power out of her kicks.
Luttrell made her first four attempts off a tee to make it through the first round of the competition along with six others, but missed a 35-yard field goal from the left hash in the next round that ultimately eliminated her from contention. Three kickers will move on to Monday’s practice for a final round of tryouts, where they will kick against live defenders.
“It was awesome,” Luttrell said in a telephone interview shortly after the tryout ended. “After [Coach Frank Beamer] didn’t call my number for the third round, I just smiled. I was not disappointed in myself. I know what happened. I wished I had more power. When I went out in the fall, people would comment on it, ‘Yeah, but she’ll never beat a guy.’ Well, I beat three. It’s a big self-esteem booster knowing I tried so hard.”
The 5-foot-9 Luttrell was a four-sport star at Spotsylvania High when an assistant football coach noticed her kicking a soccer ball one day in 2010 and asked her to come out for the football team. With the Knights, she kicked 11 extra points and went 1 for 2 on field goal attempts as a senior.
That, though, was where she thought her football career would end. But while working as a hostess before coming to Blacksburg for school, Luttrell’s boss “was obsessed” with her trying out to be a kicker for the Hokies. So finally, to get her boss off her back, Luttrell got in touch with Virginia Tech’s director of football operations, John Ballein.
He told Luttrell on the first day of classes in August that the team would be holding an open tryout the following week.
Luttrell went and made all six of her kicks from 25 yards out, a performance Beamer deemed strong enough to merit an invitation back for spring practice. “The most intimidating part is having [Beamer] stand right next to you with a stopwatch,” she said.
Getting prepared for Saturday’s tryout was its own challenge. With no goal posts readily available, Luttrell was forced to practice at Virginia Tech’s track and field facility just across the street from Lane Stadium, where she and a couple other hopeful kickers would set up two trash cans as uprights and use a marching band director’s stand to simulate height.
When she was lucky, Luttrell would drive over to a local park in Blacksburg and kick on a dilapidated field with a rusted goal post.
Luttrell laughs now as she thinks back to telling her family last year that she wanted to go out for the football team. Her mother, Terry, was against it initially since she didn’t allow Luttrell’s older brother to play football in high school.
But this week, Luttrell has been getting daily phone calls from her mother asking questions like ‘Did you kick today?’ or ‘Have you been stretching?’
“She’s like all freaking out about it, and I was like, ‘Okay mom, I thought you didn’t want me to do this,’” Luttrell said. “She’s really excited for me.”
Luttrell also got some encouragement from LSU women’s soccer player Mo Isom, who earlier this month tried out to be a kicker for the football team in Baton Rouge. Isom was cut by Coach Les Miles, but through Facebook, she offered Luttrell some pointers on the sort of even-keeled mentality she would need to maintain throughout Saturday’s tryout.
And though Luttrell didn’t quite make the cut, she is not giving up on this dream. She plans to meet with Ballein and Beamer on Monday in hopes of figuring out a way to continue training in a more structured environment, and perhaps try out again next season.
Luttrell said as she was leaving Virginia Tech’s facility Saturday, Beamer approached her and said, ‘Look girl, I’m proud of you. You have the fundamentals, you have the technique; you just need the power and it’s something guys are going to have on you all the time. But don’t be hard on yourself.’
“You can get stronger,” Luttrell added. “So I want to see, if I can kick as hard and as far as they want their kickers to kick, would I have a chance with my accuracy?”