A sophomore wasn’t seeking an audience during a recent Indian Creek High School football practice.
But Claire Skillman attracted one, anyway. So it goes when the team manager demonstrates an ability to make 30-yard field goals.
A 5-foot bundle of energy and personality, Skillman could be the player booting point-after attempts for the varsity football team in Friday’s season-opener at Knightstown.
All because Skillman chose to demonstrate her soccer skills to an entirely different audience.
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“At one of the practices I was messing around kicking field goals. I had not ever kicked a football before that. I didn’t even have shoes on, and coach (Mike) Gillin asked me to bring my cleats to the next practice,” the 15-year-old said. “The practice after that he asked me to get a physical. I got a physical, got my pads, and I’m a kicker for the football team now.
“When I was younger I really wanted to play football but kind of got over it because I realized it was never going to happen.”
Yet it has.
The absence of a girls soccer program at Indian Creek contributed to a female on the roster of one of Gillin’s teams for the first time in the coach’s 37-year career.
Skillman plays travel soccer for United Soccer Alliance of Indiana. However, her Alliance teammates currently play for their respective high school teams. So Skillman is using football as her competitive outlet.
Indian Creek connected on 128 of 168 conversion kicks (.762) over the past three football seasons. Most were kicked by Dylan Walker, who graduated this past spring.
The Braves’ kicking competition comes down to Skillman, junior Max Murr and sophomore Dylan Sprong. Sprong is a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than Skillman.
Gillin said he has no problem with the kicker being a female.
“I have never had a girl play for me at the high school level,” he said. “Her teammates love her. She was our manager for a couple of days, went over to the field and kicked a couple right through.
“She’s pretty consistent. A tiny thing, but very athletic. I expect her to kick at some level for us this season whether it’s junior varsity or varsity.”
In Saturday’s preseason scrimmage at Greensburg, Gillin twice called on Skillman. She made her first point-after kick and missed the second.
“I was nervous for the scrimmage because it was my first game situation, but I’m not as nervous for our upcoming game just because I’ve had a lot more practice,” said Skillman, whose 4.3 grade-point average ranks her 10th academically in a class of 165 students.
“I have mostly guy friends, so it’s really fun to be around my family.”
Skillman said she didn’t begin kicking footballs to be a role model for young girls. At the same time she’s not about to run from such responsibility.
“My (female) friends think this is so awesome,” Skillman said. “I want girls to think if they put their mind to it they can do anything that they want to do.”
Since she is unable to drive the football into or near the end zone on kickoffs, Skillman would be utilized exclusively for point-after opportunities.
“Coach said that if I did do kickoffs he would have me kick it and then run off the field so there was no chance of getting hit,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not going to be tackling anyone.”
Just stereotypes, that is.
THE SKILLMAN FILE
Name: Claire Skillman
Family: Parents, Steve and Tiffanie; sister, Megan, 25; brother, Andrew, 21
Favorite TV show: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
Favorite food: Mexican
Favorite movie: “Fast and Furious”
Favorite athlete: Lionel Messi
Favorite team: FC Barcelona