West Ranch High School freshman Katya Way, nicknamed “Boulevard,” did not know that when she signed up for the junior varsity Wildcat football team last year she would be on a path to be the first female player in the school’s history to score a 2-point conversion.
However, in the Wildcats’ matchup against Castaic High School last week, in the first quarter following her team’s first touchdown of the game, Boulevard’s play was called and she would cross the goal line — ball in hand.
According to her coach, Rick Miler, Way came into the program with little to no knowledge of how the game was played. But unlike her fellow teammates, who would head to the locker room immediately after practice, the greenhorn wide receiver would be seen taking extra time every day after practice to rehearse what she had learned that day.
“She kept coming to work hard and then one day she approached me after practice and said she wanted to improve and I gave her some tips to do at home,” said Miler. “And she stayed after practice every day for about 10 to 15 minutes working on stuff and catching passes, running routes, learning how to catch the football.”
After a few days of committing herself to hard work, her male teammates began to notice. And they began to want to help the former dancer turned football player.
“Honestly, since she joined the team, everything’s been kind of the same; we really didn’t judge her or treat her differently,” said Cody Marcus, a sophomore on the team. ”We joke around the same way, we have fun and … she works as hard as everyone else.”
Marcus, Way’s older teammate, then decided to teach her what he had worked on and learned during the offseason since he first played high school football.
“At the beginning, when we first started, she wasn’t too familiar with the plays so I would, whenever our coach would give us a play, I would just ask her if she knew it,” said Nathan Mugavero, a fellow freshman on the team, which is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. “If she didn’t, then I would try to help her and show her the way to run it.”
For Way, making the transition from nine years of choreographed dance to choreographed hitting was challenging at first. But she said that she eventually got the hang of not only the play names, but also the fundamentals of the game.
“I was doing dance for nine years and I didn’t really like those types of sports and I always wanted to do boys sports, or what I considered to be boys sports,” said Way. “And so I liked the idea of football, but I didn’t really know that much about it. So, this year I just kind of decided to learn as much as I could and decided to start playing.”
“It was really cool putting on the pads and feeling like an actual part of the team,” she added.
During the Castaic game, Miler felt that his young wide receiver had shown she was willing to put the work in, and that her effort in becoming a seamless member of the Wildcat football team left an impression on him. He wanted to reward her for the work.
“I saw it, I said that’s hard work and I reward hard work,” Miler said.
With the game at 6-0, Miler called Way over and told her they’d be running the wide receiver screen pass they’d been rehearsing for the last few weeks, both during and after practice. Up front would be two of the tallest players on the team and behind would be Katya, who would be catching the ball.
A screen play, if executed correctly, can fool a defense and result in a decisive offensive gain; if run incorrectly, and the frontline blockers fail to reach the secondary in time, the ball handler is left hung out to dry as the defense is given a free shot at the receiver.
Way caught the ball, though. Her teammates carried out their roles effectively, and she ran the ball into the endzone, getting tackled as she crossed the goal line, and solidified herself as the first female in West Ranch history to catch a 2-point conversion.
“I was really freaking out at first because they just told me to go in and I was really nervous,” said Way. “I just focused on catching the ball … I just had to catch it and run, then get tackled, but in the endzone.”
Way says she doesn’t really remember much about the play while it was happening, but she does remember the immediate reaction she got from the rest of her team while she was being picked up off the ground.
“They were all kind of freaking out and bounding, I guess they were kind of jumping,” said Way. “They all tried to circle around me; they were all very happy about it.”
“I was just so happy for her, because she’s been very hard-working and she’s been very determined to prove herself,” said Mugavero.
Way said even before the play that she plans on continuing forward with the sport over the next four years. The 4.7 GPA football player also hopes that her play, both in practice and in the game, can become an example to others wishing to start something they’ve never thought possible before.
“Hopefully me being out here will get other girls to not be too nervous,” said Way. “I know a lot of girls probably won’t want to do it … but I hope they try it.”
To view the video of Way’s scoring play, visit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CNJ7DTejB0B/?igshid=1maz8fihx81sm