COLUMBIA — As she stepped onto the field, her stomach was churning. She had plenty of support. The crowd of Smith-Cotton football fans were chanting her name. But Jessica Greer, just 5 feet, 4 inches tall, could only see the Warrensburg players on the other side of the line.
Still, she had agreed to this. As she prepared to attempt the extra-point kick, the holder looked up and offered just two words of advice: "Don't miss."
No. 1 seed Missouri (12-5-3, 7-1-2)
vs. No. 8 Kansas (12-7-2, 4-6-0)
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Blossom Soccer Stadium, San Antonio, Texas
Entering the game, Missouri coach Brian Blitz is two wins away from winning his 200th career match.
"That's when in really hit me," Greer recalled. "Like, oh my gosh, I'm out here on the football field, and I'm half the size of all these guys out here."
Greer, now a freshman on this season's Missouri women's soccer team, began suiting up as a kicker for the Smith-Cotton football team as a junior at the school. She knew coach Mark Johnson and some of the players and first got involved by helping film games. Then the coach's son, Smith-Cotton quarterback Bryce Johnson, who became the holder on that first kick, gave his father a suggestion.
"Our first game we lost because of extra points," Mark Johnson said. "My son said I should ask her to kick. At first I thought he was kidding."
Then Greer she said would give it a try and she met the the coach for a 9 a.m. Saturday run-through.
"The first couple times she tried were horrible and funny," Mark Johnson said, "and we worked some more, and then she was popping them through and caught on pretty quick."
Missouri soccer coach Bryan Blitz said it's easy to see Greer kicking for a football team.
“I think it fits her personality,” Blitz said. “It’s pretty cool actually. She has that toughness in everything she does, and obviously you need that to play American football and European football (soccer). I think she’s very mentally and physically tough, and you can see that in the way she plays.”
Greer has started in four games for Missouri this year and has had playing time in all 20, logging 643 minutes and four goals as a freshman on a team with seven strong senior leaders.
“I think she has a certain level of mental toughness and brings a level of energy,” Blitz said. “She’s fun to be around. I think this year we have such an upperclassmen-dominated team on the field, and she’s finding ways to get on the field through her performance at practice and that’s a tribute to her hard work.”
Greer and the Tigers finished first in the Big 12 Conference this year, winning only the second regular season conference title for a Missouri team. The top-seeded Tigers will face No. 8 seeded Kansas in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in San Antonio, Texas.
As a member of the Smith-Cotton girls soccer team, Greer received multiple state and conference honors and scored 55 career goals. Although she knew it was unusual for girls to play football, Greer said she was happy that she was asked to kick for her high school team.
"I always wanted to see if I could, so I was excited, but I didn't really tell anybody and went out and tried," she said. "When I went out to kick just by myself with the coaches, I wasn't nervous, but when I went to practice with the boys the first time, that's when I got nervous."
Despite being used to kicking a soccer ball into a goal, she had some different techniques to learn for her new position, but she learned quickly.
“At first, it was kind of hard because I just wanted to drive the ball, but on an extra point, you have to get it up that way when they’re coming to block it so they won’t block it, and so that took some getting used to. And timing was another thing,” she said. "But other than that, it was just like kicking a soccer ball, just driving the ball through an upright.”
Greer didn't miss that first kick and said that all her nerves were gone after she made it and the three other extra points she attempted during the game. By the end of her first season, she was the first-string kicker with 26 extra points. During her senior year, Greer helped the team to a 12-1 record and a sectional appearance. She also set a single game extra point record with 10 and tied a state record for most points scored by a special teams player in addition to being named to the all-conference and all-district football teams.
Although Greer was the first female football player on Smith-Cotton's team, Mark Johnson said that the team did not treat her differently than anyone else.
"There wasn't a lot said about it because our players had a lot of respect for her," he said. "At first they were probably like, 'yeah right,' then they saw her kick a couple times. We didn't talk about it a lot. She gained the respect of the players real quick."
Despite her success in high school football, Greer said she is focused on playing soccer for Missouri now.
“I do miss playing football,” Greer said. “Soccer Friday night lights and football Friday night lights are two different things, and I wouldn’t trade playing soccer for football any day. It’s a different atmosphere more than anything. I love going to watch the Mizzou (football) games. It’s just a different atmosphere, different types of fans, but I wouldn’t trade it for soccer.”