Arizona needs to send a great big ‘thank you’ to Becca Longo. The senior at Basha High School in Chandler is certainly doing her part to counter the negative publicity this state’s high school sports scene has been living with for the last couple of weeks.
A very ugly hazing incident in the Hamilton High School football program has spread across the national media and it took something like Longo’s historic invitation to join the Adams State program as a place kicker to divert attention from the sorry story. Longo becomes the first woman to get a scholarship offer to play football at a Division II or higher program.
Adams State, located in Colorado, is a D-II program that plays in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Any kind of positive news is a welcome diversion from the story about the six Hamilton football players that were arrested late last month on suspicion of sexual assault, kidnapping, and aggravated assault following reports of a series of hazing incidents that began in September of 2015.
The shocking news made headlines in media scattered around the country, finding space in major publications and on websites reaching many thousands of sports readers.
And there seemed to always be new reports that kept the story alive. First, it was the ‘reassignment’ of head coach Steve Belles, who had built the Hamilton program into a nationally-respected power and a local juggernaut that has won seven state titles in 14 years, the last eight under Belles.
Belles was reassigned to home, which meant he was removed from the program and banned from campus for an undetermined amount of time. That was followed by news that one of the students, 17-year-old Nathaniel Thomas, would be changed as an adult; the six players involved ranged in age from 16 to 18.
And in another month, it will be front and center again when Thomas is scheduled to appear in court on May 25.
Thankfully, the news about Longo’s scholarship has also been spread across the country, picked up by major outlets like ESPN, SI, and CNN, to name just a few. Word about the historic achievement even made it across The Pond, where primary UK publications like The Daily Mail and The Guardian, picked it up.
The story of a high school girl playing college football as a kicker is not totally unique. Others have done it before, although not recently. But Longo is making history because she is apparently the first to be offered a scholarship to play. The others made the team as walk-ons, hoping to prove themselves once given the chance.
This historical precedent found its way back into the news again this week when Longo signed her Letter of Intent to play for the Grizzlies in front of her family and friends at the Basha gymnasium. If it had come a couple of years earlier, the ceremony would have taken place at Queen Creek High School, where she attended before transferring to Basha after her sophomore year.
That’s where this odyssey began for the 5’11”, 140-pound athlete. She earned a spot as a kicker on the Queen Creek JV team as a sophomore and then had to let the idea rest for a year while she sat out her junior year to satisfy transfer rules.
It was Longo that took the initiative, sending out recruiting tapes to various colleges, one of which landed on the desk of Adams State’s offensive coordinator, Josh Blankenship, and led to an invitation to visit the campus in Alamosa. She made her official visit in February and committed to the Grizzlies on March 4.
Longo will be just one of many new recruits hoping to help turn around a program that finished 2-8 last season. The Griz didn’t attempt many field goals last year and were just 5-of-8 on their attempts. Their new kicker from the desert will likely be relegated to point-after attempts – she connected on 35 of 38 attempts this past season – but she did get some work on field goals, with her longest made FG from 30 yards out.
The 18-year-old also committed to play basketball at Adams State, but it was obviously her accuracy on the football field that got her in the door, not impressive stats on the basketball court. She averaged 2.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in her senior season at Basha.
If she continues to make news while at Adams State, it will likely be with a ball that is pointed on both ends.