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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Courtney Cohen, 17, is the first female football player in Gulf High School football history. When she returns to school and the field as a senior later this year, her family will be cheering enthusiastically from the stands.
NEW PORT RICHEY - The Gulf kicker grabbed a small rubber block, dashed toward a spot on the 15-yard-line, lined up the play, and then prepared to kick an extra point for the first time in a live game.
From the stands, mom Amy Cohen could see the color leave her child's face.
The kick, however, was perfect, arcing between two tall metal uprights, true as can be.
For a split second, Courtney Cohen didn't know how to react. She turned to her left, grinning and relieved, before remembering the rubber block, which was handed to her by holder Madison Burr.
Then she ran off the field.
When she reached the sideline, she finally exhaled and took off her helmet. She looked as if she had just stepped off a roller coaster for the first time.
In some ways, she had. In less than a year, Cohen, 17, has officially gone from football cheerleader to all-county sweeper for the soccer team to the first female football player at Gulf High School.
In Tuesday's Green-White intrasquad game at Des Little Stadium, she made all three of her extra-point attempts, solidifying her role as the team's starting placekicker for her senior year.
"This girl can kick, " said head coach Jay Fulmer. "Right now, she is the best we have. I trust her leg and foot over anyone else's at the school."
Cohen isn't the first girl to play varsity football in Pasco County - Pasco High's Amanda Newsome holds that honor, starting for the Pirates in 2002 at kicker. But she will be the first one since.
Cohen has wanted to kick since last season, when she danced and jumped on the sidelines in a green skirt, holding pom-poms, often finding herself distracted by the action on the field.
Now, her former cheerleading teammates think she is a little crazy.
"The good kind of crazy, though, " Cohen says, smiling. She is always smiling.
Since she can remember, she has loved the game of football, cheering on her Florida State Seminoles on Saturdays and watching the NFL with her dad Phil Cohen, a local attorney, on Sundays.
And it runs in her blood - uncle Jeff Geier kicked for the University of Minnesota, and uncle Mitch Geier played for Troy State.
It was Cohen that first suggested to his daughter that she might be good enough to kick field goals for the high school team. To be sure, he took her to the school's football field on a Saturday two months ago, and held while his daughter booted balls through the morning sky.
"She was kicking them pretty good, " he said.
So good, in fact, he called Fulmer to ask if he would have a problem with his daughter, a girl, trying out for the team.
"I said as long as she can hit and block and tackle and take the punishment, sure, " Fulmer said. "That's when he told me she was a kicker."
Now, after a successful spring, Fulmer says he thinks she has the ability to be all-conference.
Courtney Cohen, a popular student at Gulf, had no problem fitting in at spring practice. Most of the players were already her friends. Fulmer and the other coaches say her gender was never an issue with any of the Bucs.
She was given her own space in the fieldhouse - a cozy 12-by-14-feet spot in the laundry room where the fragrance of detergent is enough to protect her from the smell of sweaty jockstraps.
"I have the nicest locker room, " she says, laughing. "And it smells nice."
Wearing a helmet took some getting used to. She couldn't see quite right. Metal bars stole her peripheral vision. She had to tilt her head all the way back to see the clouds. Twice when taking it off, strands of her reddish hair got caught in the face mask.
When she ran, she looked like an oversized bobblehead doll.
"My head bounced around a little bit, " she said.
But the bulky equipment - the shoulder pads actually bother her most - will come in handy one day, when she has to go in and make a tackle on a blocked kick or a bad snap.
Girls soccer coach Shari Schau said another former player of hers, Jackie Hollis, considered kicking for the team in the late 1990s, before ultimately deciding that the chance of physical contact - a hard tackle or a vicious block - was too great.
Cohen, on the other hand, thinks that would be great.
"If there's a situation she needs to make a tackle, she'll take them down, " Schau said. "It makes me a little nervous, but she's a tough kid. She'll be okay."
Cohen thinks Schau and her club soccer coach, Karl Kukec, are more nervous than her parents. While Phil Cohen filmed his daughter during the spring game, mom Amy Cohen and 15-year-old sister Hannah Cohen squealed with delight from the stands.
To prove just how serious she is, Courtney Cohen attended a soccer camp two weeks ago in Bradenton put on by NFL Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy. She received tips - she wasn't following through - from former University of Cincinnati kicker Jonathan Ruffin college football's best kicker in 2001 and college coaches.