It was a surreal moment in time for Ludlow High School that all at once captured the old, the new and the out of the ordinary, to boot.
Ludlow football coach Woody McMillen stood on the home sideline at newly refurbished James Rigney Memorial Stadium, one of the few New Deal-era Work Projects Administration high school football stadiums still in use in the area, and watched his female placekicker Brooklynn Huff convert an extra-point kick on bright red artificial turf.
“Pretty much right down the middle,” McMillen said of the 20-yard conversion.
The coach watched Huff convert five more extra-point kicks in what turned out to be a perfect 6-for-6 night and a 42-6 Ludlow win against Lockland in the season opener.
“It’s foreign to her, but I wasn’t surprised. She’s a soccer player,” said McMillen, in his first year as Ludlow head coach. “Early on, one of the first things I told her was, ‘You’ve got to be quick,’ and she picked up on that pretty fast and has a real quick delivery.”
Huff, a senior, added to Northern Kentucky riverside lore by scoring just as many points as the opposing team in her very first high school football game. She’s tied for second on the team in scoring, trailing only running back Dameyn Anness, who scored four touchdowns for Ludlow in the Friday opener. After one week of play, Huff was among state leaders in kick scoring with six record-breaking points.
“It was pretty cool,” Huff said. “I got nervous halfway through the first kick. I normally try to get out of my own head.”
Getting out of the way of opposing players also is part of the plan. Although Huff is as tough as they come, the Panthers don’t want one of the most versatile and valuable Ludlow athletes getting hit, and they’ve talked about it. Huff not only is the Panthers’ best kicker but she’s also a goalkeeper on the girls soccer team while playing a schedule concurrent with the football squad. She’s a member of Ludlow’s track and field team as well, competing in the shot put and discus.
Huff has played soccer since was a preschooler. She did not allow a goal in the Panthers’ first three matches this season while making eight saves and posting a pair of shutouts.
“They’re my biggest cheerleaders,” Huff said of her soccer teammates.
Huff began participating in track and field after deciding she wanted to see if she could better her mother’s throwing distances in the shot put. Her mother, the former Elizabeth Blackburn, is a 2003 Ludlow graduate who once heaved the shot put almost 34 feet, a distance Huff has yet to match with one more track and field season to go. But daughter has mom beat on one front. Huff wears a helmet and shoulder pads while suiting up for the football team. Her mom never did that.
McMillen has known about Brooklynn Huff’s athletic prowess for quite some time. A history teacher in the Ludlow school district, the coach had her in class as a student when she was in the eighth grade. Before becoming head football coach, McMillen was Ludlow’s special teams coach when the unit was in a bit of a roster crunch with fewer players than ideal. The coach was always on the lookout for a kicker, and he wasn’t limiting the search to boys.
“I casually mentioned it a couple times to her. Just asked if she was interested in kicking for the football team,” McMillen said. “We talked a time or two. At one point, she said she was interested.”
The coach met Huff a few times at a practice field.
“It was clear to me she could kick extra points and field goals,” McMillen said. “She’s already a better kicker than any of the coaches, so there wasn’t a lot we could teach her. We just told her a few things, don’t try to kill it and trust your skills. We built up her confidence and said, ‘Go out there and do your thing.’ And that’s what she’s done.”
Huff’s scores sent some local historians scurrying for the record books to see if six points is the most ever scored in an area football game by a female kicker without a missed kick. Former Bellevue player Kaylynn Dill, a 2011 graduate, is thought to be the last previous full-time female kicker who scored with regularity for a Northern Kentucky football team.
Huff is the first female player McMillen has coached. He previously was head coach at Bellevue, where players were in short supply. McMillen built the highly successful Walton-Verona football program from scratch, laying the foundation for current coach Jeff Barth. When it comes to putting together football teams, McMillen knows how to think outside the box. When the Ludlow kicker graduated this past spring, the coach approached Huff one more time about kicking footballs.
“I thought, eh, why not?” Huff said. “I figured it’d be fun.”
She began working on technique in June, learning how to lift the football and place it with accuracy between the goal posts.
“She’s a soccer player who plays football not the other way around. If we get her for 10 minutes a practice, we’re fine with it, and we release her to soccer,” McMillen said. “It’s worked out pretty well. We’re definitely pleased.”
After a lifetime of soccer, Huff never dreamed she’d be getting kicks on the football field. Converting that first extra point against Lockland was a thrill she’ll never forget.
“It was kind of like how soccer is. The team building me up,” she said of the sudden convergence of football teammates around her. “It’s been a great experience for sure.”
Ludlow is off this week and returns to action Sept. 1 when it hosts Sayre.