Coach Brent Perez, left, Vanessa Ledbetter, Lyric Jones, Ciara Green and Coach Tim Franzese of the West Valley Mustangs falls to Montclair 26-25 in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 13 playoffs. Valley News/Courtesy photo

The West Valley Mustangs fell to Montclair 26-25 in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 13 playoffs, but thanks to their youth and all-around talents, especially from the three female players on their roster, a trip back to the playoffs next season is not too hard to fathom.

All season long football competitors lined up against West Valley, where they got to see some unexpected players. Vanessa Ledbetter and Ciara Green were two of the three female football players West Valley had rostered this past season.

Ledbetter, the veteran football player, played last year and was West Valley’s first female football player. She helped pave the way for other females to try out for the team. Ledbetter in 11th grade, Ciara Green in 10th grade and Lyric Jones in 10th grade were all inspired by their brothers to pursue football. Vanessa recalls watching her younger brother’s football practice for a youth league. She said she would be running the same drills as the football players on the sideline and asked her mother if she could join. Her mother talked to her about possibly joining the cheerleading team instead, but Vanessa knew her passion was to pursue football. She said football has been a great outlet for her to get her aggression out as well as break stereotypes.

Vanessa Ledbetter, who also played in 2020, is West Valley’s first female football player and helped pave the way for other females to try out for the team. Valley News/Action Captures Media Group photo

Between the three females, they fill five positions. Ledbetter is a right guard; Jones is a receiver and safety; and Green is a receiver, corner and running back. Unfortunately, Jones missed the season due to an ACL injury she received in a tournament over the summer. Both Jones and Green were starters for both of the school’s freshman/sophomore and varsity teams. Green has had three touchdowns this year and is the first female to carry the football for West Valley during a game, picking up 6 yards on her carry.

West Valley coaches said watching the girls play has been inspiring. Coach Brent Perez described his three athletes as fearless, stating that it is special to see them compete in a predominantly male sport. The three girls laughed when they described the reactions they had received from other teams they were competing against.

West Valley players weren’t really sure what to expect when the girls suited up over the summer, but the coaches and the girls said they are no longer holding back and are treated the same as their male counterparts. When the dust cleared on the season, West Valley went 7-4 and 2-2 in the Mountain Pass League.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.