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July 23, 2014

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high school football:

Female football player giving Coronado a leg up

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Coronado kicker Aliza Madden comes off the field after a PAT attempt during their game against Foothill Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer recount their second loss in as many years as coaches in Halloween Hoops against Findlay Prep before transitioning into football. Among their numerous disagreements are a debate on the current value of the run and a discussion on the odds for the Sunrise region.

Coronado High football coach Brad Talich typically doesn’t spend much time working with his kickers.

That job belongs to assistant coach Mike Cofer, a former NFL kicker and Super Bowl champion. So when Cofer called Talich during the summer with word he had found a kicker for the upcoming season, Talich simply checked that task off his list of priorities.

Then, when players arrived in early August for field work, Talich realized the kicker Cofer had found was unlike other players he had coached:

The Cougars have a female kicker this fall in senior Aliza Madden, who left the Coronado girls' soccer team after three varsity seasons for a chance to wear shoulder pads and a helmet under the Friday night lights.

“Coach Cofer called me and said, ‘Hey, we have a student-athlete here at Coronado who wants to try to kick,’” Talich said. “I said, ‘Well, get them out (to practice).’ Then, I later find out it’s a girl.

“We didn’t make a big deal out of it,” he continued. “We told her she is going to compete like everyone else. Come to be, (Cofer) was right, she is pretty good.”

Madden has filled a void for a team that last season advanced to the state semifinals, converting 15 of 15 extra points and instantly gaining the confidence of teammates and coaches.

Sophomore Spencer Cofer, Mike’s son, has a stronger leg and handles all of the kickoffs and field goal attempts of more than 35 yards. The 5-foot-9 Madden has missed all three of her field goal attempts, trying too hard to add distance to the kick and instead sending the ball on a line drive.

But when it comes to extra points, she has been steady — her kicks are typically down the middle and have plenty of height and distance.

“I told her we just need someone to make extra points,” Mike Cofer said. “As long as you make your extra points, you’ll be good for us. She is doing a tremendous job.”

And, if her you ask her teammates, she is doing a tremendous job at more than kicking.

Kickers are often off by themselves during practice and excluded from other football activities. And a female kicker would have a great argument for special treatment.

But Madden refuses to be different, which has made her popular with teammates. She participates in conditioning drills with the others and celebrates victories in the boys locker room — before the others change, of course. When the team is on offense, she’s part of a crew of players holding cards to signal in plays.

Click to enlarge photo

Coronado kicker Aliza Madden retrieves her kicking block after a PAT attempt during their game against Foothill Friday, Oct. 18, 2013.

“It’s definitely been different and interesting,” she said. “They treat me like I’m one of the boys and that’s made (playing the new sport) so much more enjoyable. I do everything they do.”

Well, except for tackling. Coaches refuse to put Madden in a situation where there would be contact.

She’s comfortable in football from spending years on the sideline during her brother’s youth games — they were coached by Cofer, who always encouraged Madden, an elite soccer player, to try kicking.

But Madden’s sport of choice has always been soccer.

A defender, she’ll play next fall on a scholarship at UNLV and is considered one of the state’s top players for her age group. She plays high-level club soccer for Las Vegas Premier Soccer Club during the fall — another reason why football was attractive, because you can’t play club and high school at the same time — and often has practice for both sports on the same day.

After one football game, she immediately left for California to play in a weekend tournament. It seems like a lot of work for a three-month football season, but for Madden it’s been worthwhile.

“I just wanted to give football a try,” she said. “Mike Cofer had always kidded with me about playing football and I knew this was my last chance. I had played soccer already three years at (Coronado) and another season wouldn’t have benefited (my soccer career).”

Madden isn’t the first local girl to try football. Palo Verde had one of the best female kickers about eight years ago in Ashleigh Shoughro, another soccer player who wound up playing at UNLV. But that’s when girls' soccer was offered in the winter.

Madden’s football experience has just a few games remaining. Coronado’s regular-season finale is Friday against Basic and the Cougars are guaranteed a playoff game. In addition to helping the team go on another playoff run, she has one more thing to accomplish — making a field goal.

Kicking a soccer ball and football require two different motions — you get under the ball in football; over it in soccer. When Madden attempts a field goal, she reverts to the soccer player and tries to strike the ball her hardest for distance.

Last week against Del Sol, that resulted in kicking the ball into the offensive line, which gave her teammates a few chuckles.

For a group of players she knew from school and childhood, it was another reason to smile in what has been a memorable journey on the gridiron.

“She is strong. We treat her just like we treat other teammates,” said junior Tanner Gorski, Coronado’s leading receiver. “We have all helped her out. We all want to help her out.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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