It may sound strange for a football player to claim to be an expert about baking chocolate chip cookies. But don’t worry, Katie Hnida hasn’t retired to the kitchen. As the title of the book she wrote suggests, she’s still kicking.
Her venues have changed. She’s practicing her sport in semipro leagues. She recently kicked in the Arena Football League. Her past includes a time of turmoil and angst at the University of Colorado, followed by a time for recovery of confidence and faith at the University of New Mexico.
Whatever the thinking is about a woman trying to play a man’s game, Hnida has her reward. After graduating from New Mexico and slipping out of the spotlight, Hnida went forward with her life knowing she was the first woman to score points in a Division I-A football game and the first woman to play in a I-A bowl game. Those rewards cannot be taken away.
"Football was what I loved and what I was best at," Hnida said looking back to when she was 14 and entering Chatfield High School. "I played volleyball, soccer and ran track, but when I stepped on to the football field, I knew it was for me."
Today, Hnida tells her story as a motivational speaker, telling young people to pursue their dreams. She also visits college campuses and talks about sexual assault awareness. She says her knowledge of the subject is personal experience.
Hnida entered Colorado in high spirits and with high hopes. During her senior year at Chatfield, she was 3-for-3 kicking field goals and was 27-for-28 on extra points. CU coach Rick Neuheisel invited her to join the football team as a walk-on kicker, then left for Washington. New coach Gary Barnett honored Neuheisel’s invitation.
Barnett eventually was less than complimentary of Hnida’s kicking ability, and she left the program after her sophomore year. Afterward, she claimed she was harassed by teammates at practice.
"I wasn’t a fit in the program," Hnida said. "I wished I had known that before I went there. A lot of different things happened, such as throwing a football at my head."
After leaving CU, she said she was sexually harassed while at the school but did not report the incident because of fear.
After a year away from football while attending a junior college in California, Hnida was ready to resume pursuit of her dream. She sent out tapes of her kicking to a number of schools.
"I initially thought New Mexico would be last on my list, but it worked out to be the best," Hnida said. "Coach Rocky Long was a huge reason. He’s old school and everything I needed in a coach. He’s my hero."
On Aug. 30, 2003, Hnida kicked two extra points in New Mexico’s 72-8 victory over Texas State. Later that season, she played in the Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA. Her extra-point attempt was blocked.
When her days at New Mexico were over, Hnida went through a grieving process. Her college career was over and she hadn’t played much, which left her with an empty feeling.
"It was a bummer for me," Hnida said. "I honestly believe I was capable of being a starting kicker. I don’t regret not going to a smaller school. I’d give anything to be back at New Mexico. It was an exciting time."
In her travels, Hnida has found a surprising large number of young girls who want to be a kicker. If she had a daughter who wanted to follow in her footsteps, she said she would offer the same support she received from her parents, David and Anne Hnida.
Right now, she’s living in Florida, still looking for opportunities to kick, while figuring out the next step in her life. In the meantime, she offers "awesome" personally baked chocolate chip cookies.
"I wouldn’t change what my life has been," Hnida said. "How cool was it to play in a bowl game? It was hard at times, but it was worth it."
Irv Moss: 303-954-1296, email@example.com
Born: May 17, 1981, in Denver
High school: Chatfield
Colleges: Colorado, Santa Barbara City College, New Mexico
Family: Mother Anne, father Dave, brother Joe, sister Kristen
Hobbies: Reading, kayaking
Future: Living in Europe for a few months
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