What started out as kind of a joke has turned something quite real for the Moline football team.
Looking for a kicker to replace senior Alex Rios last spring, Moline coach Mike Morrissey, somewhat tongue in cheek, went to girls soccer standout Caroline Hazen to see if she would like to give kicking a try for the Maroons.
"He is the one who brought it up last summer that he needed to find a kicker," Hazen said. "I wasn't sure what would happen, but I said I'd try it and here we are."
Hazen will handle the Maroons' kickoff, field goal and extra-point duties tonight when they host Alton in the season opener at Browning Field.
Football teams around the state started a number of years ago bringing soccer players onto the football team for kicking duties — but that was the boys. Morrissey is taking it to a different level.
"Honestly, it was just kind of joking in the spring, but when she came out this summer and showed what she can do, it became a lot more serious," Morrissey said. "I know some teams do that with the boys soccer players, but it is tough because they are also playing in the fall.
"We went this way, and luckily, she was all for it."
The sophomore was for it. Hazen's mom was not too thrilled.
"My dad, Mike (who was a football standout at Moline), was really for it," Hazen said. "My mom (Katie) was a little bit worried, and we had to get her to accept it. Now, she is all in and ready."
Before anyone wonders about how a 5-foot-4 girl is going to stand up against varsity football players, a decision was made that Hazen won't be involved in any hitting.
"She is going to be a no-contact player," Morrissey said. "We will talk to the coaches before each game and let them know what we are doing, and she will not be involved in any contact plays. And, no, we won't be running any fakes."
In fact, Hazen has been told to run off the field as soon as she kicks the ball. Hazen, who loves contact on the soccer field and basketball court, is all about living by Morrissey's wishes.
"Safety is the most important thing," Hazen said. "I don't want to get hurt for my other sports. I will run off the field as fast as I can. I'm not afraid of getting hit. We played the Maroon & White Game last week, and it never even crossed my mind that anyone would hit me."
And if someone tried to, Hazen would be well-protected. The Maroons have assimilated Hazen into the team extremely well.
"I don't know what the team thought of me joining the team when it first happened," she said, "but as it is now, things have been great. They are really supporting me."
Morrissey said she has adjusted well.
"First of all, she is a tough kid and she has no fear," Morrissey said. "The guys really love having her as part of the team. Obviously, we have had to make some little changes, like having a place for her to dress and softening the 'guys talk,' but these guys are taking pride in having her as a part of our football family."
Of course, with a Moline team that has big-time expectations this fall, having a kicker who makes kicks is going to be important.
Neither coach nor player is worried about that.
"I think I can make one from 40 yards in a game, but I'm most confident around 30," Hazen said. "Honestly, when I kicked the football for the first time, it was just like soccer. I have just had to adjust my steps. My dad helped me a lot, and all the coaches are giving me tips with my footwork."
Morrissey is confident in his new kicker.
"She has shown a good leg in practice," he said, "and you know me, I'm a go-for-it guy anyway so she may not be kicking a lot of field goals. The great thing is we now also have two young ladies kicking on our JV team."