The Rachel Laney story –
By Wade Linville –
It’s not often that local football fans get the opportunity to see a female student/athlete competing on the gridiron at the varsity level. By the time male football players are making the transition from boys to young men, safety becomes a serious concern for most females competing in the sport of football, but Rachel Laney is not your average young woman.
Laney is a senior student/athlete of Fayetteville-Perry High School where she has played four years of football at the high school level. This fall will mark Laney’s final year of varsity football, a sport she has competed in since she was in first grade.
In a sport dominated by male athletes, Laney has overcome much adversity on and off the gridiron to compete in a sport she loves.
It didn’t take long for Laney, who grew up with three older brothers and nicknamed Punchbuggy by her late football loving grandpa before his death), to develop a love for football. She recalled how exciting it was to watch her brother, Jacob Laney, play football in his years of youth and dreamed of one day getting her shot at football when she was just a kindergartner. Jacob Laney was a fullback on the Fayetteville-Perry High School football team who graduated in 2014.
“I feel like I’ve been playing (football) since kindergarten because I watched my brother all those years,” said Laney.
Before her start in youth football, Laney was unsure if she would even get a chance to compete in the sport of football. While her father, Mike Laney, was in favor of his only daughter taking to the gridiron, her mother, Ronda Laney, disapproved.
“My mom never wanted me to (play), but dad was all for it,” said Rachel Laney. “I wanted to play when I was in kindergarten, but my dad wanted me to wait until next year to see if I actually wanted to do it. I went to a bunch of my brother’s football camps when he was younger and I just loved it. I actually just fell in love with the game (watching him).”
“It was the first day of (football) camp in first grade, and I never knew he (my dad) signed me up, but he secretly did,” she added.
Laney remembers that day at football camp when she heard the words, “Hey Punch Buggy, you’re on the list,” and it was then that her football career began.
“(After seeing my name on the list) I realized I was on the team, and I’ve been playing ever since,” she said.
Her love of football grew from there. Her parents can remember career day when she was a youngster at school. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Laney’s response was “an NFL player.”
Laney would go on to play various positions during her years of youth football, even taking on the role as quarterback. At the high school level she has competed as a fullback, kicker, H-back and a middle linebacker on defense.
Throughout the years, Ronda Laney has continued to try and bribe her daughter from playing football.
“As a mom, I knew she was a great player and has the most passion for the game and the team. I didn’t want her to get hurt, so I even offered to buy her a Jeep (she loves Jeeps) if she quit football,” said Ronda Laney. “She, of course, said no. So her friend gave me a great idea. I sweetened the deal this year… a Jeep, a puppy and a new cell phone…she said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Laney was quick to admit that competing on the football field has grown more and more difficult over the years against the maturing males.
“When I was younger I was bigger than all of them and I was faster than a lot of them,” said Rachel Laney. “I think it was about junior high when I realized they are getting bigger than me. I’ve tried my best, like in the weight room, to get bigger than them. It’s really hard.”
When reaching the high school level, it required even more hard work to keep up with teammates and opposing players who had grown into young men.
“They got even bigger,” Laney said of her transition from junior high to high school football. “They matured a lot and they got a lot better. It makes me sad sometimes because they (my teammates) were all my little brothers and now…”
Her hard work to continue being competitive in the sport of football has not gone unrecognized by her coaches, teammates, or family; a senior multi-sport student/athlete who also competes in softball and track and field throwing events.
“Rachel is extremely coachable and works hard. She is just as dedicated at being good at football as she is with the rest of the sports she plays. She embodies the team concept and will do anything to make the team successful,” said Fayetteville-Perry High School head football coach Kevin Finch.
Laney has competed on some very successful Fayetteville-Perry varsity football squads, a program that has claimed Ohio Valley Athletic League titles over the past two years, winning the league the only two years they competed in the OVAL before making this year’s move to the Southern Buckeye Athletic/Academic Conference National Division.
While high school varsity football may be too aggressive for most females and some male athletes, Laney loves the contact and hopes she can contribute this coming fall.
“I don’t really care where I play, as long as I can tackle somebody,” she said. “I’ve played linebacker most of my career.”
Laney’s time as a football player hasn’t come without injury, as she has suffered from concussions, a bulged disc, a sprained neck and a contused elbow; but she understands that battling through the pain is part of the game.
When asked if her gender has put her at a disadvantage in the sport of football, Laney said, “Yes and no. Yes, because physically they (boys) are stronger. No, because I’ve grown up with three older brothers and I’ve been on the football team since I was little, so I think I have more of the ‘mental toughness’ than a lot of them. I’ve had to work my butt off to get to that point in my career.”
At times when she felt her teammates were taking it easy on her while running drills in practice, Laney encourages them not to hold back.
“During some drills they would take it easy on me, but I tell them to go hard,” she said.
Off the field, Laney is the president of the sports medicine program at Southern Hills Career and Technical Center.
While Laney’s chances of competing in football at the collegiate level are very slim, she is actively being recruited by colleges for both softball and track and field.
In the meantime, Laney continues her hard work in the weight room and on the football field to prepare for the upcoming fall season, her final season of a sports career that she has enjoyed competing in for 12 years.
What she will miss most about her football career are the Friday night games.
“I will miss the Friday Night Lights. Under those lights, it’s just the best feeling,” she said.
In her final season of football, Laney will do whatever it takes to aid her team to victory.
“I just really want to do whatever is best for the team and to get the win,” she said.
For female student/athletes who possess a love for football such as Laney, the Fayetteville-Perry senior had this message: “Don’t give up. It will get hard, but just don’t give up. Do what you love.”