Jianni Arroyo doesn’t need a league of her own.
The eighth grader at would rather play football with boys. That’s just what Arroyo, this week’s Elk Grove Athlete of the Week, has done by joining a junior midget team in the this summer.
“She’s not just holding her own,” said Arroyo’s coach, Donte Lynch. “She’s been one of the better players.”
Arroyo, 13, already had made a name for herself in the PAL basketball league before lacing up her spikes on the football field. Last fall, she played point guard and was named an MVP—pretty impressive for being one of the only girls in the league.
Yet even Arroyo was taken aback when PAL organizers offered her the chance to play football this summer.
“I was surprised,” Arroyo said. “You wouldn’t expect a girl to play football with boys.”
But at home, the opportunity made sense. Arroyo has three older brothers who played football while she grew up and they often let her join their games.
Arroyo’s mom, Ophelia Mosqueda, said her daughter has embraced this unique opportunity to try something new.
“It’s been such a great thing,” said Mosqueda. “I’ve watched her be so adamant about being to practice on time and having all of her equipment. She's so excited.”
Still, Mosqueda had reservations about her daughter getting hurt. Lynch also admitted he was initially worried about Arroyo suffering injuries, but said once she took the field at practice, he was relieved.
“Every now and then, you get a girl [like Arroyo] who not only can protect herself on the field, but can play,” the coach said.
Elk Grove Patch caught up with Arroyo during practice last week at . She talked about how excited she was to play football and how her teammates reacted when she arrived for the first practice.
How long have you been playing football?
This is the first league I’ve played in, but I have older brothers, cousins, and uncles. I’ve been playing since I was five.
What’s been the hardest part of being the only girl in the PAL?
I don’t think there is a hardest part if you give it your all, like I do. But I’d say the hardest part is “bear crawls” for me. It’s [conditioning]; you have to get on the ground and crawl. It makes your legs stronger.
What about the most exciting part?
I can’t believe they let me play with boys. My teammates accept me for who I am. My coaches give me the support that I need. I think that’s the most exciting part.
What position do you want to play?
I’d like to play quarterback, running back or wide receiver. One of the coaches said they’re looking at me to play fullback. As long as I get to play and I’m off the bench, I don’t care!
How have the other players treated you on the team?
When I first got there, I could tell that people were looking at me and thinking, ‘That’s a girl, she doesn’t know what she’s doing.’ As soon as I got my gloves on and I was on the field, they were like, ‘We want her, we want her for our team!’
How would your example help inspire other girls who might want to play?
Not only guys can do everything. I think boys and girls can both do the same things, as long as girls put their minds to it and don’t doubt themselves. Some of my close friends knew I was tough, but they didn’t think I would last. My advice for girls would be go out there and don’t let anyone tell you what you can do.
Would you ever want to play high school football or professional football?
Yeah, definitely. I’ll play, as long as I’m not on the bench. If they have a spot open for a woman in the NFL, I’ll go for it, but I wouldn’t want to be in the all-girls league. I’d still want to play with the boys.