Even when Kalika France was in elementary school, she had moves that made her a neighborhood legend -- in football. She could throw pinpoint passes to her teammates, had the speed and agility that made her unstoppable with the ball and, even as the only girl playing, she could shut down all the boys.
"You should have seen her out there playing tackle football with all the kids," said Jacqueline Parrish, France's mother. "They just started calling her Deion, like Deion Sanders, because she was 9 years old going against boys who were 13 and 14 and she was the best player out there. She could do everything."
Nine years later, France has made her mark in basketball. A 5-foot-10 senior forward at Bishop McNamara, France is one of the best high school seniors in the country according to numerous national analysts after averaging 12 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists per game last season. But she still reminisces about the days when she ran rampant on the makeshift football field outside her Landover apartment complex, dreaming that one day she would be more like Joe Montana, not like Mike.
"I thought I would go to the NFL one day, but then when I was around 10 and the boys in my neighborhood were signing up to play football at the Boys and Girls Club, my parents wouldn't let me. My [stepfather] told me there are no girls in the NFL."
France's football career ended that year, and though she still throws the football around in her spare time, she acknowledged things have worked out pretty well for her since she traded long touchdown passes for long-range shots.
France signed a letter-of-intent last month to play next season for Maryland and is currently the top player on one of the best teams in the country, let alone the area.
"Kalika's one of the best guards out there in the country," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. "She's driven like she's a born leader and has a drive to be successful, and she loves to win, and those are things that can be contagious to the rest of our players. You can just see how much she loves the game of basketball."
There's still a little bit of football player in France, though. She cuts and slashes through a defense like a running back weaving through a secondary. Her uncanny ability to see all her teammates at once as she fires a perfectly-placed no-look pass that results in an easy layup is akin to a quarterback lofting a pass over the defense and hitting a receiver in stride for a touchdown.
"Kalika has this intensity . . . of an athlete that is determined to win," McNamara Coach Mike Bozeman said. "She plays every second she's out there in one speed, and that's to go all-out. I saw her play for the first time when she was in eighth grade . . . with her [AAU] team and knew right away she was someone I could build my program around."
France was the first player Bozeman persuaded to come to McNamara. Since France arrived at the Forestville private school as a freshman, she has helped transform the Mustangs from a program that was overshadowed in its own Washington Catholic Athletic Conference to a team that that is regarded as one of the best in the country.
Because France's future college plans are set, she has directed her immediate attention to the Mustangs' goal of winning the first WCAC and City Title championships in school history.
"I've won a lot of championships playing in Boys and Girls Club and AAU, but I've never won a championship at McNamara," France said. "That's what I want. I want us to go out champions this year."
France is one of McNamara's five returning starters -- junior forward Antelia Parrish, junior center Chauntise Wright, senior guard Nikki Bozeman and junior guard Genet Moore are the others. The Mustangs went a school-record 27-3 last year but were dismissed in the WCAC semifinals tournament by Elizabeth Seton.
McNamara's lineup was further bolstered this summer. Three of the county's best eighth-graders last year enrolled at McNamara for their freshman seasons, and sophomore forward Iman McFarland transferred from Elizabeth Seton.
All of which has raised the bar for France's expectations.
"I think we'll have a great team this year because we're all unselfish and all we care about is winning," France said. "With the amount of talent we have on this team, I don't see why we can't win every game."