JACKSON, Miss. (BVM) – During Saturday’s win over Bethune-Cookman, a Jackson State Tigers freshman football player made history on the game’s first snap. On the opening kickoff, kicker Leilani Armenta became the first female football player in program history and is believed to be the first female in HBCU football history as well.
— espnW (@espnW) September 23, 2023
The game was the end of a whirlwind of a week for both Armenta and the Tigers program. After field goal kicker Gerardo Baeza was injured in the Sept. 16 game against Texas State and punter Matt Noll was injured during practice, the Tigers coaching staff was left scouring for answers. Fortunately, Armenta, who is a freshman on the JSU women’s soccer team, had some football experience as well.
Thank you 🙏 JSU fans, coaches and teammates for all of the love and support! This was one of my first kicks last week, 10 months post ACL surgery. I have played for 4 years with my senior season being played on a torn ACL. Grateful and Thankful! ❤️🐯 pic.twitter.com/uEuwNG9l6E
— Leilani Armenta 🌺 (@LeilaniArmenta) September 24, 2023
Armenta played three years of varsity football at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, California. In 24 career games, Armenta went 5-for-5 on field goals while converting 98 of 105 PATs. She was also in charge of kickoff duties, kicking 109 for 3,552 yards and two touchbacks. For her efforts, she was named Marmonte League first-team kicker in 2021 and Marmonte League honorable mention in 2022.
Varsity Career Stats
Thank you to my team and coaches.
98/105 PAT made (2 blocked)
5/5 FG made
3552 KO yards (2 TB) (3 onside recovery)
5 county kicking records
2021 First team kicker Marmonte League
2022 Honorable mention kicker Marmonte League pic.twitter.com/yEbcq8K8NO
— Leilani Armenta 🌺 (@LeilaniArmenta) December 13, 2022
More impressively than her senior performance, Armenta did it all with a torn ACL on her kicking leg. This explains why she had to wear a knee brace on her leg during Saturday’s contest.
7 months of hard work. Playing on a torn ACL in my kicking leg an entire football season taught me how to be resilient.Thankful to every coach/PT who supported me and continue to support me. The work doesn’t stop but I’m happy to be back. #JSU #Soccer pic.twitter.com/qoN2X7d2nb
— Leilani Armenta 🌺 (@LeilaniArmenta) June 21, 2023
After months of rehab and hard work, Armenta was cleared for soccer activities in July.
Officially cleared to return to soccer. 7 1/2 months post ACL surgery, a lot of work, tears, good days, bad days but it all worked out. Thank you to my surgeon Dr. De Giacomo. The work continues. Grateful for Jackson State and the ability to play again. pic.twitter.com/qxLvBkT7sA
— Leilani Armenta 🌺 (@LeilaniArmenta) July 4, 2023
While she was preparing to represent the Tigers on the soccer field, she couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to kick on the gridiron at the Division I level. Now, Armenta has made an appearance for the Tigers football team before ever recording a stat for the soccer program.
HerSTORY! @LeilaniArmenta !
— The 1400 Klub (@1400Klub) September 24, 2023
Though Armenta’s future with the football program may not be clear, she has already inspired countless other female kickers looking to make their way to the collegiate level. With at least six games left for the Tigers this season, expect Armenta to continue to make history every time she returns to the gridiron.