By Janee Law
Taylor Moreno, Huntington High School’s 17-year-old football kicker, could be picked out of the group by her light brown hair, neatly fixed in a French braid hanging out of her helmet onto the back of her No. 2 jersey.
“To see her in the lineup on the sidelines and you see all these big guys and the back of their helmets and then you see my daughter with the braid down the back of her helmet,” said Taylor’s mother, Theresa Moreno, 46. “It was a really cool image.”
Taylor, a 5-foot-7, 143-pound senior, of Huntington, is the first female kicker in the high school football team’s history. She was the only female in the fall season to play on a varsity football team on Long Island, completing 13 extra points. Her longest kick was a 35-yard field goal in practice.
Before every football game -- the season ended Nov. 7, with Blue Devils making it to the first round of the playoffs -- Taylor dressed alone in gear and padding in the girls’ locker room, often getting done before the boys. With her blue eyes peering from the facemask of her helmet, she mentally prepared herself while waiting for the rest of the team.
“I usually come outside, decompress, get relaxed and get focused,” said Taylor, motioning with her hands and wearing a silver ring on her right middle finger.
The oldest of three children -- she has a sister Theresa, 16, and brother RJ, 13 -- Taylor grew up around the sport. Watching games with her father, Taylor said she always wanted to play football.
“She was always very athletic, so we would always be doing something -- whether it was kicking the soccer ball around, throwing the football around or playing lacrosse and she enjoyed it,” said Taylor’s father, Michael Moreno, 52. “It’s fun to get out there and mess around with her.”
As her father pushed her to give 100 percent, Taylor wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty, and found herself playing with the boys. She enjoyed the challenge and it helped her grow as an athlete, she said.
Talent Spotted Early
In seventh grade, Taylor was approached by the eighth-grade football coach who was interested in having her play for the team after he watched her toss a football around with the boys.
However, her parents didn’t want her to get hurt playing with the bigger athletes and felt it best that she didn’t join.
“They were all talking about her being the quarterback, so we were concerned,” said Theresa Moreno. “She was a little disappointed back then, but it’s always been something on her bucket list to be a part of.”
But both parents liked the idea of her participating in the sport, however, and they signed her up for a flag football team at the Huntington YMCA.
“I remember one night, it was really cold and raining, but we were still playing anyway and it was just fun to be out there,” Taylor said, adding that she played wide receiver and was the only girl on the flag football team.
She played flag football for one season, then focused on lacrosse and soccer.
Taylor was given another opportunity to play football at the end of her junior year when the Blue Devils football coach saw her kick a soccer ball.
“She kicks the heck out of the ball, so we use to say to her, ‘You should kick for us, we need a kicker,’” said Huntington head coach Steve Muller. “Then she started to become serious about it. She showed up over the summer, we showed her how and she worked on it. She’s a legitimate kicker and a tenacious athlete.”
After she made the team at tryouts, Taylor, who is playing three other high school sports this year, was mandated to take a state athletic placement test, which consisted of running a mile, push-ups, sit-ups, shuttle running and flexibility.
Taylor said it “wasn’t difficult.”
“It just goes to prove any girl can fit into a guy’s sport if they put their mind to it.”
‘She’s Got Swagger To Her’
This fall, Taylor was also a star goalie for the girls soccer team.
From 3-5 p.m., she practiced with the soccer team before heading over to the football field to work on her timing and footing for an hour.
“A lot of parents that came to the football games had no kids playing on the football team, but strictly came to watch her play,” said Michael Moreno.
“It was exciting to see these little kids just completely in awe of the fact that there was a girl on the boys football team,” said Taylor’s mother. “They were mobbing her, wanting her autograph and it was really cool to watch this transform and the impact she was having over the crowd.”
While Taylor solely kicked extra points, risking an injury was still possible, but Taylor said she put those concerns aside due to the support she received and her passion for the sport.
Throughout the season, Taylor came into contact only once with an opponent. It was during a game with Half Hollow Hills West in September.
During an extra-point attempt, the snap was short and the Blue Devils holder for field goals and extra points grabbed the football and rolled out to look for an open receiver when an opponent shot through the linemen and, in an attempt to tackle the ball carrier, he pushed Taylor out of the way.
“I just stood my ground a little bit and let him run into me instead of making it easy for him to get to him,” Taylor said, referring to the play.
Blue Devils co-captain Amaru Jones, 17, said although it was an intense experience for Taylor, she’s tough and can handle it.
“She’s got a swagger to her. She knows what she’s doing out there,” said Michael Lonergan, 17, also a co-captain. “She doesn’t think of herself any differently and she does what she’s got to do and gets us points. It’s an awesome experience having a girl on the team just acting like one of the guys.”
Having been friends with some of the boys previously, Taylor said they welcomed her when she joined the team.
“They accepted me right away and they’re like brothers now to me,” she said.
Case in point: After Taylor scored the game-winning goal in a soccer game against Centereach on Oct. 5, she arrived late to a football dinner, and when she walked into the cafeteria, the boys stood up and cheered.
“It just goes to show how involved they are with both sports that I play and how much they care for me as a teammate,” Taylor said.
A Role Model
After a stint with indoor winter track last year -- in which she earned All-League honors in the long jump and triple jump -- and completing the football and soccer seasons, Taylor is currently playing basketball and will be playing lacrosse in the spring.
In soccer, Taylor has been All-County, All-State and Suffolk’s Large School Goalie of the Year twice in each category.
In addition, she was named Suffolk MVP at the Long Island All-American lacrosse game last year and MVP of the Girls’ 2016-2018 Gold Division championship game in the Lake Placid Lacrosse Tournament over the summer.
“She can do whatever she wants to do,” said John Walsh, head coach for the Blue Devils soccer team. “If she wanted to be an All-American football player, she can probably be an All-American football player. She’s got it all.”
With a 4.0 GPA and a 1560 score on her SAT, Taylor has been a New York State Scholar Athlete all four years in soccer and lacrosse. She plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a partial scholarship to play lacrosse next fall.
Although watching her older sister play against bigger athletes in football was “nerve-wracking,” Theresa said that she wasn’t surprised when Taylor decided to join the team.
Theresa, who plays for Huntington’s tennis team and is on the lacrosse team with her sister, said that Taylor, “has that attitude to basically do anything that she wants to put her mind to. It’s really cool. I’m proud to say that she’s my sister.”
When thinking about the mark she left as a girl football player, Taylor said she wants to be viewed as a role model.
“I want to be a positive figure in that young girls can look up to and not necessarily have the desire to play football but have the desire to play whatever sport they want to,” Taylor said. “I’ve always been told you’re better off regretting a decision you made than regretting a decision you didn’t pursue. Don’t be afraid to prove yourself worthy of something, no matter how hard it might be to get there.”