Deanna Guzman was looking to have a memorable senior year at Newark Collegiate Academy.
No girl had ever made the school’s football team. One tried two years in row, but couldn’t cut it.
“I’ve gotta leave my print,” Deanna said. She told this to her mother, Alashia Brown, meaning she had to leave her mark and go for it this summer.
“There are some females I know who aspire to be a football player but are afraid to try out.”
Deanna, a Newark resident, knew her attempt was big, but not role-model big after she made the team.
She’s the quiet one, a studious and kind 18-year-old young lady, who reads books about brain function and socioeconomic conditions in urban communities. Fiction and non-fiction, too.
“I’m kind of geeky,” she said.
No. She’s an offensive tackle, who has started a trend at the charter school and garnered the attention of young players in Newark Pop Warner Football.
“I have on a daily basis, a number of female students coming to me saying, ‘Coach I can play football just as well,’ ” said NCA coach Darrin Davis.
Look for another female student, Alexis Littlejohn, 14, to give it a shot next year.
“She (Deanna) is definitely an inspiration,” the eager freshman said.
“The physical part doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it,” Alexis said. Her cousin, Semaj Everett of Newark, is a linebacker for Howard University who tackled her often when they tossed the ball around growing up.
But seeing Deanna in shoulder pads, wearing No. 51, sealed it for Alexis. If they can handle the contact, Davis said, he doesn’t mind having girls try out. He knew Deanna, 5-feet-8 and 205 pounds, could hang. She likes to work out, and box, too.
Davis has seen her bench press 150 pounds and win the state shot put championship on the school’s track and field team that he coaches. She never complains, he said, even when she experiences shooting pain periodically from a serious injury she suffered in a car accident on her 13th birthday.
A speeding motorist struck Deanna while she was on her way to middle school. Her right shoulder and arm are held together with wires; a rod from her left knee, is connected to her hip. She had to learn how to walk again.
“She’s probably one of the hardest workers on the team,” Davis said.
It showed during a week-long intensive football camp when she tried out. The team stayed at the school, sleeping in the gymnasium. Deanna went home each night, returning at 5:30 a.m. to be ready for camp at 6 a.m.
“When I saw her getting out of the car, I’m like, ‘Whoa!, this is for real,’ ” said Abdul Nashid, 18, the team captain and quarterback. “That made an impression on me.”The fellas are all in with her as a teammate. Deanna doesn’t make excuses, running laps like everybody else if she makes a mistake.
And she’s not afraid to get hit or mix it up, said Kamil Vickers, a 16-year-old, 300-pound tackle.
“For a guy like me to go up against Deanna, she goes down and gets right back up,” he said. “She’s like a ball of energy. That’s the kind of thing teams need nowadays.”
Your print, your impact, is more like a crater.
“I can’t believe this kid,” her mother said. “It’s still overwhelming to know that your daughter has opened the door.”
News of her accomplishment has trickled down to younger players, too.
Madison Jacobs, 12, had already heard about Deanna when I told told her that a girl earned a spot on a Newark high school team.
“She goes to NCA,” Madison said.
Yeah, but guess what. Deanna is impressed with Madison, and the six other girls – ages 7 to 13 – who play Newark Pop Warner Football.
“Little kids, especially females, that play football. That’s dope,” Deanna said. “I didn’t know that.”
Madison has been playing four years with the Jackie Robinson Bears, and can’t get enough of the sport. She’s up by 5 a.m. for 9 a.m. games and will forego social events so she won’t miss practice.
A diehard Giants fan, she even has her mother, Avia Jacobs, watching NFL games. Last week, she played against her brother, Javon Swain, 10. He’s a member of the South Ward Bulldogs, and said Madison inspired him to play.
“She’s a real good player,” he said.
Her teammates, agree, seeing her improvement each year, noticing that she hits hard, too. It never occurred to Madison that she couldn’t play, sidestepping skepticism to become a starter.
“They didn’t think I could tackle or run fast, but I showed them,” said Madison, a defensive end and offensive tackle in the Pee Wee Division.
Zanyah Graves, 12, doesn’t care what boys think. Her mindset on the Bears: “If they try to get rough, I get rough right back,” the first-year player said. Briana Earving, her junior varsity teammate, is in her second year and just as determined.
“I’m showing the boys that girls can do what they can do,” said Briana, 13.
That’s Deanna’s goal.
“You can’t (go to) sleep on the females,” she said.
After four games, she’s played in two but is unfortunately going to miss a few.
Deanna has been experiencing recurring pain after her four wisdom teeth were removed last year. An infection was treated, but she still has migraine headaches.
She’s scheduled to see a neurologist on Wednesday for a spinal tap procedure. Deanna is calm about it, offering a glimpse of her spirituality.
“I pray every day,” she said.
Should it turn out that she’s away from the team longer, Deanna will miss football but she is okay with that.
“My print is being a role model for the young ladies I leave behind,” she said.
She marched off the field Saturday, smiling with Panther pride, high stepping next to the band.
NCA won its homecoming game.
Deanna won, too. Everyone will remember the history she made in her senior year.