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TCs Morelli breaks gender barrier on Eagles football squad
Arin Morelli
Turlock Christians first female football player, Arin Morelli, practices her kicking with holder Austin Ellefson on Thursday. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR / The Journal

Soccer players turned field goal kickers: what was once a novel idea has become a recurring trend in high schools and colleges around the nation, local teams not excluded. Turlock and Hilmar High have a history of enlisting soccer standouts for kicking duties, but the Bulldogs and Yellowjackets aren’t alone this year because Turlock Christian High has jumped into the fold with senior Arin Morelli.

Morelli’s transition from futbol to football is a little different though. That’s because in addition to competing on the soccer field and the gridiron this Eagle also competes on the court —the volleyball court. That’s right; Morelli is a girl, the first female football player in TC history.

“I love sports and I love competing and I’m a soccer player so I thought I’d give it a shot,” Morelli said. “I thought about it for a while, since last year, but I didn’t start practicing until the summer. I just wanted to give it a shot and see if I could do it.”

After a discussion with her dad, Morelli began training with kicking coach Paul Assad through the summer months, working on the technical differences of kicking a football as opposed to a soccer ball.

“I grew up around soccer so I didn’t think it would be that much of a difference, but it’s a huge difference,” Morelli said. “With a soccer ball, if you want to get it up in the air you lean back, and with a football if you want to get it up in the air you lean forward. It’s opposite, so it’s kind of weird.”

Despite the adjustments, a couple of months with Assad proved to be enough to build Morelli’s technique and confidence, setting up a secret tryout with Eagle head coach and athletic director Shane Smith.

“I was a little surprised,” Smith said. “It was all her idea; I didn’t even know she was interested.”

Morelli not only surprised Smith with her kicking aspirations but she impressed him with her ability, earning a spot on the roster and an inside peek to the typically male-driven world of football. Although she has been a longtime classmate and friend to many of those already on the team there was a moment of trepidation when it came time to put on the pads and assimilate into the squad.

“At first I thought it was going to be weird; like they were going to look at me different and maybe not treat me the same but I’ve actually gotten really close with them,” Morelli said of her Eagles teammates. “But it is a whole different atmosphere; it’s more intense. I like intense sports, but it’s a big difference from volleyball.”

“The first time she was in the locker room at halftime I think I scared her half to death,” Smith said with a chuckle. “I don’t think she was used to a football coach going off.”

The intensity of the game isn’t the only difference from volleyball, however. Whereas Morelli is an integral part of TC’s volleyball team as a captain, her role on the football field has been limited due to Smith’s inclination to go for two rather than kick PATs. To date, Morelli has attempted only two extra points, both against Stoneridge Christian during homecoming week, the first of which sailed through the uprights before the second was blocked.

“I was in a whole different world; it was crazy,” Morelli said of her appearance against Stoneridge. “I don’t remember anyone talking and I don’t remember the crowd, I just remember running out there and staring at the block and waiting for the ball to come.”

“I was relieved to make it,” Morelli added. “The first kick was the most pressure but then I wanted to do it again because it was such a rush.”

Although she hasn’t been asked to kick a three point field goal or been put in a situation where her foot is the difference in the game, Morelli, whose kicking range is around 30 yards, is eager for the opportunity to show her team and their fans that she can handle the pressure and perform like any other football player.

“I have trust in my line, my holder and my snapper,” Morelli said.

“She doesn’t come out here and act like a girl,” Smith said. “She doesn’t want to be noticed as a girl. She just wants to fit in and kick and she’s been doing a good job.”

Morelli’s place on the team has also had effects off the field, spurring TC students and parents to flock to the games on Friday in the hopes of watching the three-sport varsity Eagle kick. Increased interest in athletics amongst the community has been a goal of Smith’s since his arrival in Turlock, so even if Morelli isn’t kicking the ball in every game she’s still contributing to the team.

“A lot of people have come to the games just to see her,” Smith said. “The support from the school is great. She even has friends from other schools that come to the games hoping to see her kick.”

It remains to be seen how many more kicks Morelli will take this season or what impact her presence on the football field will have at TC but one thing is for certain; simply having the opportunity to follow a dream has made all the hard work and double duties worthwhile.

“I have no free time on my hands so it’s stressful but I love sports so I do enjoy it and think it’s totally worth it. Next year when I look back I’m going to be so happy I did it,” Morelli said. “But right now, I just look forward to our team winning, to scoring and to having fun.”