When Becca Longo signed her letter of intent to play college football on National Signing Day on Febuary 1, she was excited about the personal milestone in her own life.
Moments later, she discovered that it was a huge, history-making moment for women in sports, too.
Longo is the first woman to receive college football scholarship from a D-II school or higher. She signed with at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, as a kicker, the same position she played in high school.
“I had no idea,” Longo tells PEOPLE.”It didn’t really kick in until a couple hours after, I just thought I was signing a piece of paper to go play the sport I love again. Even right now, I’m still shocked. It just doesn’t feel real.”
Growing up with a brother 11 years older than she was, 18-year-old Longo said there wasn’t much opportunity for shared interests between the siblings — except for football, their “happy medium.” Her older brother played on his high school team, and would pass around a ball with his sister on the weekends. There was a female player on his high school team, too, so he didn’t think anything of it.
So when high school rolled around, Longo tried out for the football team her sophomore year, making the junior varsity squad. She transferred schools the next year, and because of rules that apply to switching schools, had to sit out her junior year. She returned for her senior year, and started thinking that football was something she wanted to pursue at a collegiate level.
Longo recorded a highlights film to showcase her skills, and send it out to a number of schools. She received multiple responses, one of which was from Adams State. After her season wrapped up, the offensive coordinator traveled to Longo’s hometown of Chandler, Arizona, to speak with her in person about attending the school — and a potential football scholarship.
A month later, she visited Adams State, and “fell in love” with the school.
“Everyone was so warm and welcoming,” she says of her visit to the school. “I just loved everything about it.”
Since her story has started gaining national attention, Longo says she’s received support from people all over the country. But that hasn’t been the case for the bulk of her football career thus far. She received pushback for her decision to play football in the first place, and then, to pursue the sport at a collegiate level, “all the time,” she says.
“I Got a Lot of Negativity”
Before her first-ever high school football game, Longo, like the rest of her teammates, wore her jersey to school. Countless classmates made fun of her, asking her if she was wearing her own jersey or her boyfriends.
“I got a lot of negativity, and people saying I couldn’t do it,” she said. “But that’s just what pushed me to do what I’m doing.”
But the people have never been anything but in her corner? Her Basha High School teammates, whom Longo calls her “brothers,” and her high school coach. They’ve never treated her any differently than any other member of the team, she says — they were even the ones who encouraged her to try to play in college. The experience of playing alongside them is one Longo says she’ll cherish forever.
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“It’s just going to hang out with your best friends everyday after school,” she says. “That’s what they are to me, they’re my brothers. “I’ve created memories with them that i’m going to carry on for the rest of my life.”
And from the start, her Adams State experience was similar. Longo says that in her conversations Timm Rosenbach, head coach for Adams State (and a former NFL quarterback) and other Adams State coaching and recruiting staff, her gender was never a topic of conversation.
“He didn’t treat me like a girl,” she says. “He treats me like a football player.”
“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “My wife is a former pro athlete. I see her as a football player who earned it.”
As for life after Adams State? Longo says that she’s focusing on the present for now, but wouldn’t mind making history in the NFL, too.
“If the opportunity was provided, I’d definitely take it,” she says. “But I’m just trying to grasp what’s going on right now.”
And for those who want to follow in her cleats?
Longo says: “People need to stop listening to others and let them influence their mindset. They just need to go and do what they love.”