Taylor Martin doesn’t want to be a publicity stunt or a distraction. She wants to be a football player.
So, the Mid-Carolina junior kicker has dedicated herself to do that. After kicking on the junior varsity squad last season, Martin was committed in the offseason to hone her craft.
Martin seldom missed a summer workout and did everything her teammates did from weightlifting and conditioning to get ready for the season.
Martin’s work has paid off. She is expected to be the Rebels’ kicker when the team opens its season Aug. 26 against Chapin.
“I came out to show them I am dedicated and I won’t quit like others. There were guys that quit,” Martin said. “I came every day in the summer to be part of the team and for the team. I am not going to take the special route and slack because I’m a girl. If you are going to be on a team of a different gender, you are going to have to work like the rest of them.”
Martin’s effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by her coach and teammates.
“She comes and busts her butt like they do. It is exciting for her and us and, hopefully, we can get some field goals out of her,” Mid-Carolina coach Louie Alexander said.
“I’ve known her for a long time, she’s a hard worker and I appreciate the effort she puts in regardless if she’s the only girl on the team or not,” Mid-Carolina quarterback Corey Stone said.
Early on, Martin said she had some resistance from some of her teammate, but they treat her like family now and she calls them her brothers.
Martin dresses in a room behind the team’s locker room that is furnished with a bathroom and small couch as she prepares for practice and home games. On road trips, she sits up front of the bus by the coaches, which she says is fine because she likes to hear the stories they tell.
Martin is the latest female athlete in the Midlands to give football a try. Others have included Tatiana Swittenberg, who played for Newberry in 2005-06. Pelion’s Kaci Poole and Elizabeth Mitchum kicked for the Panthers in 2008 and they were believed to be the first female players in state history to score points in the same game and were featured on CNN. Bethany Emmert was on the Pelion team until a week ago but left the squad.
According to the National High School Football Federation, 1,964 girls played 11-man high school football last season.
“It is not a gender thing; it is the love of the sport. If you love the sport enough and try hard enough, it doesn’t matter what gender you are,” Martin said. “You can do whatever you want.”
Martin credits her sister Melissa, who lives in Washington, with giving her the courage to come out for the team last year. She also gets inspiration from her mother Caroline, who has worked her way up to being an engineer with the Columbia Fire Department.
Martin’s mother has to miss some of her games because of her work schedule but will get updates from her dad during the games.
“She is one of the highest-ranking women who work for the Columbia fire department. She has gone up the ladder and proved she can do it,” Taylor said of her mom. “That is a role model right there. She has done it in her career. I’m just doing a high school sport.”
Martin has played sports most of her life. She started playing soccer when she was 4 or 5 years old and is a member of Mid-Carolina’s varsity soccer team.
Martin also is involved in air pistol competition and recently won a gold medal at the U.S. Junior Olympic Progressive Position Air Pistol National Championship at Fort Benning, Ga. She also ran cross country before deciding to give football a try.
Martin’s father initially tried to talk her out of going out for the team. But once he thought she was serious, he got her a tee so they could practice kicks in the backyard.
Martin said her first few kicks were “awful” and she almost tripped when she did her first kickoff in a game last year. She has worked with Newberry College kicker Joseph Foster on her technique. During most practices, she boots 30-50 kicksand works on her short pooch kicks.
Alexander said Martin will handle extra points, short field goals and kickoffs. Martin has hit a 41-yard field goal in practice and is comfortable kicking in the 30-33-yard range.
Despite her confidence, Martin has her share of nerves.
“I am shaking and have to calm down before the ball snaps,” Martin said. “I have a couple guys that play special teams that will talk to me before we go out there. They calm me down and we joke around a little. I’d rather be laughing than nervous and shaking.”