(Idaho Falls) -- If you’ve attended a Skyline High School football game this season, you may have noticed how talented the team’s kicker is.
The 17-year-old senior has a near perfect record, hardly ever misses a kick and has a solid work ethic.
Oh – and one more thing. No. 18 is a girl.
Analee Cortez is a sports fanatic raised with athletic older siblings. Her parents say she has “always been playing something” since she was a toddler.
“She’s played soccer all her life. She also plays basketball and she plays softball,” says Maria Cortez, Analee’s mother.
But football was never part of the plan until Analee was in middle school. Her brother, a lifelong soccer player, made the Skyline football team and the Cortez family attended the games.
That’s when Analee says she fell in love with the sport.
“She said, ‘Mom, Dad, I think I want to try out for the football team,'” Maria recalls. “We said we’d always support them in anything they wanted to do so I had to stand by words.”
Maria really didn’t think Analee would try out for the team, but the date arrived and Analee showed up at the field having never kicked a football in her life.
“It was a little awkward at first because the shape of the ball is different,” Analee says.
That didn’t matter. She made the freshman team and has been playing every year since.
“She’s fun to have around here. We call her princess or queen whatever we’re feeling that day,” Skyline Special Teams Coordinator Marco Martin says with a laugh.
Martin says in his 30-year coaching career, he’s only had three girls on his team. He likes working with Analee because she doesn’t ask for special exceptions and expects to be treated like any other player.
“I can get on her to get moving and she responds,” Martin says. “Her timing is good and she gets a good loff on the ball. Those things you can teach but some kids don’t get it. She already had it.”
Annalee’s mother admits she had some concerns early on: Would her daughter have a separate locker room? Yes. Would the coaches teach and help her? Yes. And what about her teammates? Would they accept a girl?
“I’m very close with all the guys,” Analee says. “They’re really nice and we love to joke around. We’re like a big family.”
Analee says her teammates are just like brothers and, because of their close bond, this year’s Emotion Bowl against Idaho Falls High School was more emotional than normal.
“I told my mom every PAT (point after touchdown) is going to be for Nate,” Analee says, choking back tears. “I wanted to have a solid game for him.”
She’s talking about Nate Koplin – a fellow player she’s worked with closely since her freshman year.
In August, Nate became paralyzed from the neck down after diving into the Snake River. He’s been hospitalized at the University of Utah since the accident and uses a computer to watch his team play every week.
“He was my snapper and so you build a connection with your snapper and holder,” Analee says. “We’ve been doing it for so long, and I miss him. After the first day, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ But if Nate can do what he’s going through, I can suck it up and do my job, so that’s what I’m doing.”
As Nate watched the Emotional Bowl hundreds of miles away in a hospital room, Analee kicked perfectly during the game, and Skyline defeated Idaho Falls 45-18.
“She had 5 for 5. It was an awesome game for her,” Maria says.
With the support of her family, coaches, teammates and school, Analee will finish the season strong – just in time to take her place on the Skyline girls basketball team.
When she graduates next year, Analee plans to go to school to become an orthopedic surgeon. She hopes her journey inspires other girls chasing their dreams.
“I’d say go for it. There’s really nothing stopping you – only yourself,” she says. “Playing football has been one of the best things that I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t ever regret it.”
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