La Jolla High School junior Cynthia Chhoeung of Oak Park is one enthusiastic Viking. She played junior varsity football as a defensive right tackle, and said she looks forward to trying out again next year.
“I started playing football when I was like 5 years old because I watched it with my dad and we would play,” she said. “I always wanted to play football for a school team instead of just outside with my friends.”
During her season, Chhoeung would approach the field — and tackling — with gusto. And her teammates quickly figured that out.
“At first they were worried about tackling me, but I didn’t care and once they saw how hard I could tackle, they didn’t care,” she said. In her last game, she almost tackled the opposing Kearny Mesa Komet’s quarterback.
“I wish I had a lot of players with her drive,” said JV head coach Craig Gagliardi. “She had an overall positive attitude of ‘I can do this and so can you, so let’s do this’. There was a lot of ‘yes coach’ from her.”
In five years of coaching, Gagliardi never coached a female player and said he didn’t know what to expect. “Everybody embraced her, it was great,” he said. “Everyone was just fine with bringing her in.” He pointed out that once the gear goes on, most players wouldn’t recognize that they were playing against a female.
“My friends and family were really excited that I got on the team,” Chhoeung said.
While she is not the first girl to don a Viking helmet, having a female player only happens once in a blue moon. La Jolla High School athletic director Paula Conway said she could only recall two.
When not playing football, Chhoeung plays soccer. But she said football is “more my thing” because she can be more aggressive.
“When she is out there blocking, you can tell she has the biggest smile on her face,” coach Gagliardi said. “She’s happy to be out there, happy to be doing it and she’s a great asset.”