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"We don't treat her different; she just goes out and does her thing' // Pioneer kicker finds the football shoe fits

When she was just a kid, maybe 8 or 9, Andrea Kavouklis wanted to be a football player. It sounded like a neat game.

She thought she might join some youth league team, maybe play quarterback or receiver.

"But my parents didn't let me," Kavouklis said. "Then in fifth grade, the big thing was being a cheerleader, but," she said with a laugh, "my parents wouldn't let me do that either."

So she contented herself with playing soccer, baseball, basketball and softball. Football didn't cross her mind again until spring 1994, when East Lake High School junior varsity coach Brad Maisner asked her if she was interested in placekicking.

"I thought he was kidding," she said.

But Maisner, Kavouklis' coach on East Lake's tennis team, wasn't kidding. He was desperate for a kicker for his JV squad. He knew Kavouklis was a good soccer player.

She tried out, did well and, after persuading her parents to let her play, was the JV kicker last season as a sophomore. This year Kavouklis, now a junior, has moved up to the varsity and will handle extra-point and most field-goal duties _ making her the first-ever female varsity starter on a Pinellas County football team. East Lake's season opens tonight at Clearwater High.

Kavouklis, 16, knows that what she is doing is unusual, but she hates getting attention for it and wants to make sure her teammates also get publicity. Early last season she refused all requests for interviews, but since has reluctantly agreed to share her experiences.

Her biggest concern is that her teammates and coaches treat her like anyone else. And by all accounts, they have.

East Lake head coach Rob Jenkins has made no promises and has said she has to earn the job on her ability. Darius Holtzclaw, who works with the kickers, said that right now she is scheduled to kick extra points and field goals. Kavouklis handled kickoffs on the JV squad, but someone else will do that this year on the varsity.

Holtzclaw said her accuracy, leg strength and leg speed are fine. Both Kavouklis and Holtzclaw said she has to work more on her mental preparation.

"That's the big thing, getting rid of her nervousness," Holtzclaw said. "She doesn't really show it, but you can tell."

Maisner said her development is in line with other kickers who move up from JV to varsity.

"She proved herself to be an athlete" last year, Maisner said. "She wanted no press (coverage), she wouldn't allow any until the end of the season. . . . Hardly anyone knew she was a girl until the end of the season. It wasn't a big deal."

Her coaches and teammates said she fits in well. Senior Jay Mize, a receiver and free safety, said players were wondering before the season what it would be like to have a girl on their team, but since her arrival it has not been an issue.

"We don't treat her different," Mize said. "She just goes out and does her thing. She's not an oddball. She's a good player. . . . Everybody's her friend."

Her gender does not complicate things. Before games, the 5-feet-8, 120-pound Kavouklis simply uses the girls locker room to change into her uniform, then heads to the team room for the pregame talk.

Kavouklis, who carries a 3.7 grade-point average in honors classes, hopes to earn a soccer scholarship to a Division I university. But she plans to keep playing football in high school. Placekicking is fun, she said, it's a challenge, and she would like to see how good she can be.

Nothing can match the feeling of making a field goal, she said. Getting hit is not the worst thing about playing football, though that happened to her a few times on kickoffs last year.

"The worst feeling in the world is when you go up for a field goal and the ref says, "No good,' " she said. "You just want to ask, "Can I kick it again?' "

IF YOU GO

East Lake opens its football season at Clearwater High tonight at 7.

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