When Meghan Cox, 16, was a freshman at Lee Highin Springfield, she briefly thought about trying out for the football team. One of the area’s top soccer players (a two-time All-Met honorable mention), Cox was looking for a sport to fill her time in the fall. A few of her friends talked her into playing play field hockey instead, and so for the past two years that’s what she did.
As a member of a nationally-ranked club team, the VSA Heat, Cox started going to the weight room this summer to get in better condition for soccer. The room was filled with football players.
“Some of the guys were just messing around,” Cox said. They were repeatedly egging her on to try and kick a field goal. She had never kicked a football before in her life. After a few kicks, she drilled one from 40 yards out. After that, “they were the ones that really talked me into it.”
Unsure if the team’s place kicker from last year was coming back, first-year Coach Clarence Martin gave Cox the nod. “My mom and dad were unsure about it at first,” Cox said. One of the school’s athletic trainers, having worked with a female place kicker at the school several years ago, reassured her parents that everything would be fine. “I don’t hit or get hit at practice,” said Cox. “I’m really not that worried about getting hurt.”
In fact, the coaches tell her to sit on the ground during a game if need be. But when her field goal got blocked Friday during a loss to district rival South County, Cox jumped up to run after the ball and absorbed her first hit. “It’s an instinct of mine,” she said. “In soccer, if you lose the ball you gotta go back and get it.” Cox said she was glad the South County player didn’t let up just because she was a girl. “It was a clean hit. I saw him coming. I looked into his eyes and I was like: ‘Uh, oh. Here we go.’ ”
As the team heads into the locker room, Cox grabs the keys from the coach and veers off from the rest of the players. Without even turning on the light in the girls’ locker room, she gets dressed by herself. “It’s lonely because I have no one to talk to. It’s just me and an empty room,” she said. “The guys, they have each other and they also have a stereo system,” said Cox. She dresses quickly and waits outside of the boys’ locker room, talking with coaches and fans as her teammates finishing dressing.
That’s the only time Cox ever feels like she’s not a part of the team.
She’s made an effort to prove to the players that she’s just as dedicated to football as she is to soccer. She comes to every three-hour practice knowing that if she wanted to, she could leave early or take a day off. Twice a week she heads straight to soccer practice after football practice. “Being here is important to the guys,” Cox said. “ It shows them that both sports are very important to me. I’m not just a kicker on the football team, I’m part of them.”
Cox, who has one younger brother, now feels like she has fifty.
Quickly the team has become “like family and I’d do anything for them,” said Cox. After Friday’s defeat, that means spending quite a bit of time on the field as the Lancers prepare for their crosstown rival, West Springfield.
“This week’s going to be a tough one,” said Cox, who like many of the team had tears in her eyes at the end of the game. “The practices are probably going to be a little bit longer and harder.”
“I’m ready for it,” she said. “I like a challenge.”