Samantha Segura-Veliz has been competing in football and wrestling at Elsinore High School for the past three years and was crowned this year’s homecoming queen.
It came as a surprise – Segura-Veliz hadn’t been expecting it, she said, and neither had athletic director Don Nicholson.
“She was crowned at halftime, and then they had to get back in and play the second half,” Nicholson said.
Segura-Veliz said she had always wanted to play football before high school, though she had been involved in other sports as a child.
“My parents thought I was crazy at first,” she said. “They asked me many times if this was something that I really wanted to do, mainly because of how challenging it was, not just as a sport but as a female, and they were scared that I might get hurt or that I would put many hours into it and not get anything out of it.”
When Segura-Veliz first started playing, she said she struggled being by herself in a male-dominated sport.
“I had to figure things out on my own,” she said. “In the beginning, I didn’t know how to put my pads on. For a solid week, I put them on the wrong way.”
Segura-Veliz said that she has bonded with the team now and sees them as her brothers.
“They have said they view me as their sister, and I see them as my second family,” she said.
The team practices all summer long, and when school starts, practices run Monday through Friday.
“From sixth period, which starts around 1:30 p.m., we have a class. We watch film and then from 2:30 p.m., we start working out and we go until 6 p.m., from working out to working on technique,” she said.
Segura-Veliz has also been in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program for the past four years, something that retired Maj. Chuck Ruhl attributes as one of the reasons for her doing well in football.
“I think that’s why she joined the football team was because of her success in ROTC, which was traditionally a male dominated core, and she was easily able to move up the ranks and take leadership positions,” Ruhl said. “This last summer she was the camp commander for our Camp Pendleton leadership experience which is a week long, so she was in charge of getting the cadets out of bed, planning the day and executing all of the events.”
“I think she took some of that with her,” Ruhl said, adding that he thinks this gave her the courage and leadership skills to bring to football.
Some of the coaches weren’t completely open to the idea of her playing at first.
“I think I gained a lot of the coaches respect and their support, and they really appreciate what I’m doing,” Segura-Veliz said.
After the school did some research, they discovered that at least two other girls have played football at the high school.
“Typically, girls in football are kickers, that’s why I think Sam is unique in that she plays on the line, which is not typically where the girls would play,” Nicholson said. “Anytime a girl wants to play, we certainly want them to play, but we also want them to understand the dangers of football. The first time that Sam came and talked to me about it I explained to her about the size of the boys and those kind of things, and she was still all about it.”
For Nicholson and from an athletics standpoint, he said that if someone wants to try something, they should have the opportunity.
“If it’s for them and they can do it, I think more power to them,” Nicholson said. “I think that’s one of the things with Sam is, in all she does, you should never underestimate just because of someone’s gender.”
For Segura-Veliz, she said it’s about believing in herself.
“Never let anybody ever tell you, you can’t do something; never let yourself say you can’t do something, cause that’s a doubt. Doubts can go away, because you’re able to break them,” she said. “Anyone can say that they can’t do something, but you can actually achieve anything that you are willing to set your time and discipline toward, so I believe it’s in yourself and never listen to people that say you can’t. At the end of the day, the people that say you can’t do it, they’re just going to help you to think that you can do it.”
Lexington Howe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.