Gaither kicks her way into history books

When he looks at senior Alana Gaither, Otterbein University football coach Tim Doup doesn’t see the first female football player to score points in the Ohio Athletic Conference or the holder of the female record for the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s longest field goal, according to

 What Doup sees is a great place kicker. Nothing more. “As an athlete, she is no different than anyone else, to be honest,” says Doup, whose team opens the season Sept. 6 against St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. “At first, it was a little different. You do get some reactions from the guys. ‘Is this for real?

Do we really have a female kicker?’

 “Now I forget sometimes I have a female on the team to be quite honest. The only thing different is she dresses somewhere else. She is one of the guys.”

 “None of my coaches have ever treated me differently,” says Gaither, who made 32 of 40 extra points and 5 of 6 on short-range field goals during the last two seasons with the Cardinals. “I’m a human being who can kick a football and that’s all that matters to them.”

 Doup admits he was a bit skeptical when Gaither, who was recruited by the women’s soccer team, approached about him about playing both sports. Fortunately for Gaither, a public relations major, she brought along a highlight reel from her playing days at Akron Firestone High School.

 Her senior year, Gaither made 43 of 45 extra points and was six of seven of her field goal attempts with the one miss being a 48-yarder. She made a 37-yard field goal in a 42-10 loss at Massillon Washington on Sept. 24, 2010 and a 43-yarder in a 45-6 win over Akron Ellet on Oct. 8 of that same year. According the Akron Beacon Journal, the field goal is tied for the second longest by a female nationally, behind California’s Heidi Garrett, who kicked a 48-yarder in 2004.

 “(When she was here for her soccer visit), someone told me she would like to talk with the football coaches,” Doup says with a laugh. “I thought ‘Oh boy, what are we going to get?’”

 “Then we saw the tape. We knew this wasn’t just a gimmick. I’ll take any kicker who can kick extra points consistently and make a 43 yard field goal. So we invited her to camp. It’s been great ever since.”


 Gaither wasn’t always a football player. She started out playing soccer when she was four and may have remained one if it hadn’t been for Firestone football coach Tim Flossie. During the fall of Gaither’s freshman year, the Falcons found themselves in need of a place kicker. When none emerged, Flossie turned to the girls soccer team.

 After finding out she had the skills to be a good place kicker, Gaither met with some resistance from her mother, Karen.

 “My dad (Bob) wasn’t as nearly as concerned as my mom was,” Gaither says. “Mom was worried about getting hit and the injury aspect. However, they know me and they know if I want to do something, I’m going to do it.”

 Ironically, Gaither’s biggest injury came in a soccer practice. Two weeks into practices her freshman year at Otterbein, she rolled over a soccer ball and landed wrong. She broke her leg and tore a ligament in her ankle. The injury left her on the sideline for her freshman year.

 “It wasn’t fun,” says Gaither, who handles the short range field goals while senior Nick Ganus kicks the longer field goals. “I’ve never had a year of my life when I didn’t play anything since I was four years old. I still don’t think I’ve come back 100 percent.”

 Although she had only been a part of the football team for a couple of weeks when she was injured that year, Gaither was surprised by the amount of support she received from teammates. Players offered to help walk her back home after classes. Her Facebook page and her cell phone quickly filled with messages of support and well wishes.

 “I felt the love, I guess,” she says.

 After returning from the injury, Gaither began to fill the strain of playing two fall sports. She had one assist in nine games as a forward her sophomore year but she couldn’t play in any Saturday soccer games because of her football commitments. She could only participate in a limited amount of football practices because of soccer.

 She knew something had to give. That something turned out to be soccer.

 “I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent on either team,” Gaither says. “I didn’t like not giving 100 percent to either team. I felt I could be in an adult league for soccer when I’m older and do it for fun. This was my only chance to play football.”

 “I remember the day she came in and told me she wasn’t going to play soccer anymore,” Doup says. “The only thing I said to her was ‘Are you sure?’ She told me ‘I just want to be a football player.’”


 Being a football player comes with its own set of ups and downs. After finally earning the job as the team’s extra-point kicker, Gaither may have thought she lost the job after one kick in her first game. Gaither shanked her first PAT attempt badly in a 54-10 win over Wilmington College in 2012.

 Gaither recovered and made her next four PAT attempts against Wilmington. She finished the season making 19 of 22 extra points and her only field goal attempt her sophomore year.

 “She thought when she was coming off the field (after the first kick) I was going to tell her ‘You’re done. You had your shot,’” Doup says. “All I did was tap her on the head and said ‘You’re all right. Get ready to do it again.’ From there on, she has been automatic. She has missed some kicks but most of them weren’t her fault. It’s either been a bad snap or something has gone awry.”

 One of the things that went awry resulted in Gaither’s mother’s fears being realized.

The 125-pound place-kicker had a field goal blocked and then she was run over by a Capital University lineman in a 23-9 victory over the Crusaders in the 2012 season. “When she got hit at Capital two years ago, it wasn’t a good situation,” Doup says. “I wouldn’t say our guys are overly protective but they treat her like any other teammate.”

 Gaither got her vengeance against Capital a year later. She made two fourth quarter field goals to lift Otterbein to a 19-14 victory on Nov. 2, 2013. Her 22-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining left Capital needing a touchdown to beat the Cardinals. Otterbein stopped the Crusaders on downs inside its own 35 with a minute remaining.

 Being hard of hearing is one of Gaither’s biggest strengths as a kicker. “I don’t know what other players are saying to her when she is getting ready to kick extra point,” Doup says. “I know there have been cruel things said about her. Our guys don’t like that … at all.”

 “I don’t hear too much negative feedback. I just kind of zone out when I’m out there,” she says with a smile. “I guess I’ve been lucky but I’ve never had something said to my face. Maybe they talk about me behind my back.”


 Gaither would like to continue to silence any critic with a strong senior year. Last year, Otterbein finished 5-5 overall and tied for fourth place in the Ohio Athletic Conference with a 5-4 record. Gaither was the team’s second leading scorer with 25 points, making four of five field goal attempts and 13 of 18 extra points.

 At the end of the season, Gaither hopes her numbers will be the story of her career and not her gender. Asked about how she felt about being the first woman to score a point in football in the OAC’s history, she shrugs her shoulders. “I’m honored I guess but I never liked getting the attention for being a girl. I rarely think twice about it,” she says.

 “Other people are going to read this story and go ‘Wow.’ But to us, it’s not a story,” Doup adds. “She doesn’t want to be in the limelight. She wants to be a normal football player and that’s the way we’ve always treated her.”

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