Having been back from Orlando for a couple of weeks now, I have decided it’s probably time to look back on the trip of a football lifetime. I’m going to break this up into parts or else it will be a book! The last time I posted, I was about a month away from leaving. I maintained myself with light workouts until the last week which I took off so I would be fresh.
My flight was scheduled to leave at 5:45 AM on January 20th. This required me to get up around 3 to catch a Lyft to the airport. I was sleepy but excited when I jumped in. My driver gave me candy from his home country of Pakistan for good luck. I arrived so early that not even the check in stand was open yet.
I waited dutifully in line, wondering if I had gotten my bag under the 50 pound threshold. Traveling for football means it’s almost impossible to travel light. I usually like to travel Southwest if I can because bags are free but on this trip, other flights were cheaper. I thought I was very clever because I took a normal suitcase, put my pads in it, and packed clothes in and around the pads. I then took my football bag, and folded it in the side pocket. That way I would have a place to put football gear when I got there and another bag if I needed one on the way back. I then put all my shoes in my carry on to disperse more weight.
When I put my bag on the scale, the light on the 2nd number was out but the first number was a 4. Whew. I was originally scheduled to fly out of a gate in the annexed wing but they changed the gate to be in one of the main terminals.
I then texted Leann that I was checked in. Leann, as you know from previous posts has been my travel buddy for a few years now. It started when we both ended up randomly rooming and traveling together for the first Women’s World Games in Dallas. We got along so well that we just travel everywhere together.
The funny part to this trip was although we weren’t on the same flight, our flights left about the same time, and because my gate changed, our gates ended up next to each other.
Leann arrived and gave me presents for my birthday that was earlier that month, including an adorable soft toy of Captain America. We got through security, went to our gates, took selfies, and boarded our respective planes. I was scheduled to stop in Salt Lake City and she was scheduled to stop in Denver. We would see who would get there first!
My first flight I crashed out like a light since I had gotten up so early. When I arrived in Salt Lake it was snowing. I didn’t have a lot of time so I grabbed a sandwich quickly before jumping on the next flight. We ended up being a bit delayed in our take off because we had to de-ice. I spent the flight watching movies and getting excited to land in a place with sun.
Since my flight was delayed, Leann ended up beating me there. Once I got my bags we took a shuttle to the rental car place to pick up our car. The last time I was in Orlando I was 3 so when went to try to find our hotel, it was crazy to me how large the Disney complex is. It’s kind of its own city. There are so many signs it’s like being at an airport. We got horribly lost that night and we were both sweating because it was a lot warmer. We finally found the hotel and the registration tent and picked up our gear.
We then met up with Leann’s teammate Brooklyn, and found a restaurant to have dinner as we were both starving. We got back to the hotel and organized ourselves for the next day.
This Orlando trip was really 4 different events in one. There was a tryout for Team USA, an international camp for the Women’s World Games, a forum put on by the NFL to promote the inclusion of women in coaching, scouting, and front offices, and Pro Bowl activities. It was like football Christmas.
The tryouts section was split up into two sessions. Leann and I decided to go to the first session. When we had booked everything, I had no idea where my knee was going to be so I figured it was wise to go to the first one in case I needed rest in between the tryouts and the camp. I’m glad that we did it this way.
Tryouts: January 21-22nd
We woke up Saturday morning pretty early so we could arrive to the field by 8:30AM. The welcome was schedule for 9 but you always want to be early to these things. We arrived at the ESPN Complex and had to park far away. This would be a theme the whole week to the fact that the Pro Bowl festivities would be here as well.
We walked with our gear around the ESPN globe and through the gates. The complex was HUGE. If you ever doubt the profitability of sports you should check this place out. I’m fairly certain it has over 25 different fields. It has tents, stadiums, and restaurants as well. We were directed by security to where our practice field was.
When we got there it was a nice grass field towards the back of the complex. I normally much prefer turf to grass but it was obvious this grass was well maintained which makes a huge difference.
We got on our gear and stretched out. I re adjusted my brace about 5 times which has become my practice. I usually mess with it in warm ups a bunch but once I get warmed up I forget about it usually. I have found the warm ups are actually the hardest part for me.
When we got into lines in the end zone, I found the linebacker group and headed up a line. I could feel the game day type adrenaline and was so happy that I was back on the field again. No matter the outcome of this week I knew I had fought my way back here and I allowed myself to take that in.
After warm ups we started our first practice of the day. We broke down into our position groups. In our session there were only around 65 people as most people had opted for the 2nd session so it would be cheaper for them to stay for camp. This meant there were only 8 linebackers in my group. We knew there would be more in the 2nd session but I actually felt like this was a good thing for us because we would get a lot more reps.
The first drill we did was a physical one. They lined us up in like sized position groups. We went against the running backs where we would line up and on go, try to drive the other person back. This was my first real contact since my injury. It was great for me to get that out of the way. I didn’t have any fear but it was more of a relief of yes, I can still do this.
One of the best things about football is you could study it forever and still never know everything about it. It’s much more mental than people realize. I think of it like chess in motion. I loved the fact that I’ve played for 11 years now and we were doing drills I’ve never seen before. It’s challenging in a good way. The more variation you conquer, the better player you will be ultimately.
I felt like the first session solid for me and when we went into lunch I was feeling good. I had debated how to handle the lunch break as far as my brace. By the end of the first session it was feeling good so I wasn’t wanting to take it off and put it back on. I kept it on during the break but think that was not the best move as our break ended up being longer than I thought and sitting down for a couple of hours with it on, made it stiff.
During the lunch break, we broke into our position groups to go over a questionnaire they had had us fill out.
I was familiar with these as we had completed them before in previous camps. They include questions that will give the coaches an idea of what type of player and person you are and what motivates you.
In our linebacker group, we each talked about where we were from and what football means to us. I was struct by the fact that everyone in my group had played at least several up to I believe 16. We were a very experienced group. We all had different stories but we all touched on the fact that football had changed our lives and that the bonds we have created through it have been incredible. It felt great to be a part of a group of women who were just as passionate as I am about what we are doing.
We went back out to the field to get ready for the 2nd practice of the day. Since I had gotten a bit stiff between the sessions I felt like I needed to warm up extra well. I think talking session we had actually overcame that for me as the first drill we went to in that session, the linebacker coach teased me for being really aggressive in a slower drill. This made me laugh as this is a typical thing that has happened to me in the past in practice. I have no 50 percent. It made me feel like I was back at home.
We finished the 2nd practice with a special teams period. They told us they are looking for players that are versatile and we would need to prove we can also play special teams. I went with the kick return people as I have done that in previous years. I was never the fastest returner but I knew I have good hands and solid decision making. I didn’t realize however, that there would be a couple of punters that would be kicking it farther than I have ever seen a female kick a punt.
They were standing on the endzone and there was one time I was standing at the 45. This girl kicked it so far over my head that it wasn’t even funny. I think it landed at the other 30 and had really only rolled the last 15-20 yards. That’s a nasty punt. It’s tricky to return punts when you don’t know the kickers. So then I would back up and the next kicker didn’t have quite the leg and I’d have to run far up. By the end I got a feel for each kicker and returned a couple. I was impressed with them though!
After we finished, Leann and I trudged through the complex to our car. That first night that walk was so long! We were tired. We got in the car and stopped for some dinner. We got back to the hotel and I took an ice bath. I pretty much took an ice bath every day in Orlando to try to keep my legs as fresh as I could. I crashed hard that night so we could wake up and do it again.
The 2nd day of tryouts the intensity picked up even more. We put together more inside run and 7-on-7 work. It was great for me because I need to get the mental rust off of reading. The most important thing a linebacker needs is your eyes and how to read the offense. It takes time to learn. I knew it mentally from playing for so long but I needed to get the rust off so I could re-trust my eyes and what I was reading.
The scheduling for the 2nd day had to be adjusted for a storm that was coming in. After the first practice we basically had 30 minute break for we had just hung out near the field before getting back out for the final practice. We were trying to get everything in before the storm hit.
The 2nd practice that day ended with a scrimmage. I was very excited for this part. I have always felt like I’m a pretty decent player in practice but that I play much better in a game setting. Since there were 8 linebackers and 2 scrimmages going at once, they split us into groups of 4.
We had a rotation going where we would play 3 plays at each linebacker spot and rotate off for 3 plays. I normally play middle linebacker but have played outside before. The tricky part is that your read is different between middle and outside and your responsibilities are different. I feel like I started the scrimmage pretty well but in the middle I felt myself overthinking a bit. Then I took a helmet to the middle of my thigh and went out for a couple of plays. When I was on the sideline, I told myself to stop thinking and just play.
I went back in and stuffed an inside run and then ended the scrimmage with a pick. It felt great. Everyone was excited. I felt like I got a bunch of rust off my back and felt more like myself. It was a great confidence builder. It’s amazing because injuries like this do require confidence rebuilding. You know mentally what you are capable of doing but you have to go out and execute physically to feel like you are back to yourself again. The pick felt like an exclamation point.
Since we ended the day early, we were excited to be able to relax and have a couple of days off before the beginning of camp. We went to Applebees to have dinner but got stuck because of the tornado weather which was fun.
We went back to the hotel and discovered that Alexis Snyder and Nikki Joseph were actually our hotel neighbors this whole time! We decided to make plans for our days off.
Stay tuned for Part 2!