Author: Seth Butler Source: The Newport Plain Talk
Cocke County High School senior Mckenzie Gregg isn't your
ordinary teenager. In fact, doing the extraordinary has almost become ordinary for Gregg.
it's no surprise she finds herself donning a high school football uniform her senior year.
Gregg, a highly sought after college soccer recruit, has done so this fall and made her mark
on the Fighting Cocks football season and etched her name into school history in the process. She
handles all place kicking duties for the football team and by making her first extra point of the
season on September 6, she became the first female to score points for the Fighting Cocks.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Gregg, who added football to an already busy
schedule filled with education and soccer. Even with the opportunity to make history or grab
attention by being a female football player, the newest CCHS gridiron star suits up every Friday to
help her own school try to win a game.
"Of course, it's special (to make history), everybody
dreams of doing something different that nobody else has done before," Gregg said. "But I'm just
blessed to do it, it's not about the glory to myself.
"I'm just there to help the team, not for
my own self-esteem," Gregg said.
Earning her way onto the football roster has been two years
in the making for Gregg, and almost didn't come to fruition. Gregg, a Newport-native, spent her
first two years of high school playing soccer for Berean Christian in Knoxville, before transferring
to CCHS for her junior season. She attempted to kick for the football team last fall, but was
ruled ineligible under the TSSAA transfer rule.
Football then almost became an
afterthought, as she focused more on her soccer career as the recruiting game increased in
That all changed just weeks prior to the 2013 season starting.
playing soccer all summer, then I came to school, I have Mrs. (Nancy) Brawley for second block and
(assistant) coach (Seth) Jones was in there and he kind of looked at me and went, 'Are you the
girl kicker that tried to play last year?'," Gregg said.
After confirming that she was and
was interested, the waiting game began. With a coaching change last fall, things were different.
Gregg said she waited nearly a week between the initial contact with the coaching staff before
being invited to try out.
"As a family, we talked about it for the longest time if I needed
to do this," Gregg said. "We prayed about it and I said, 'God, if you want me to do this, give me
a sign' because they hadn't talked to me about (kicking) in a week.
"The next day, coach
Slover came in my class and asked when I was coming to practice, so I said that was my sign,"
Gregg joined the team officially during the opening game week on August
Since her youngest days, Gregg has been involved in athletics. She started playing
soccer at the age of four and competitively at seven, along with her older sister Mikayla - a
sophomore standout at Carson-Newman.
Currently, Gregg plays for the Knoxville Soccer
Academy - which will attend the national championships at IMG Academy in Florida in December.
She's also played for a semi-pro team in Knoxville and has a handful of NCAA Division I schools
offering her scholarships.
Gregg currently has offers from Tennessee-Chattanooga, Miami
(Fla.) and Virginia Tech.
Despite the obvious differences in the shape of the ball, Gregg
says there's no difference in her kicking style.
"Usually kickers tend to kick with their
toe, but I've been brought up that if you kick with your toe, you have no idea where (the ball) is
going," Gregg said. "So I just use the same technique as I do with a soccer ball, I just lean
backwards instead of forward. If you lean forward, it's just like an onside kick and it just goes
into the ground.
"It's pretty much the same kind of style," Gregg said.
kicking style may be the same, the other differences are glaring. While she has played on soccer
teams with guys before, the lines are hardly blurred in football.
"At first, I thought the
guys would not like a girl on the team, so I thought I have to prove myself to them to show I can
do this and promise that I'd help them and be like a sister to them," Gregg said.
all been so awesome to me, they've taken me under their wing."
With the competitive nature
of the sport, Gregg has fit right in with the team.
"She's as competitive as anyone else on
the team," Cocke County coach Caleb Slover said. "I think she fits in so well with our guys,
because they're getting to the point where they're getting so competitive, she just adds to
"She's fun to be around, she does a good job for us and I couldn't ask anymore than
she's doing right now, except I wish she had won homecoming queen last week," Slover
The adrenaline of the sport, associated with the crowd and the environment, have also
taken some acclimation for the veteran athlete.
"As soon as I run on the field, under
those lights, oh my goodness - no girl could ever imagine that," Gregg said. "The feelings I have
are truly indescribable and could never be duplicated. I can't put into words what I feel for this
team and the feelings I have before stepping on that field."
Still, she has had to battle
nerves, especially in the team's season opener at Gatlinburg-Pittman. Not knowing what to expect,
Gregg only saw action on two plays - a field-goal attempt and the second half kickoff - but she
had to get the nerves out of her system.
"I was about to throw up, my face was pale," Gregg
said. "I mean literally every single second, I was praying, especially as they got closer to the
end zone, my leg was shaking.
"I kept telling myself that I've kicked since I was four -
it's just a football," Gregg said.
Having a strong support system helps the CCHS senior calm
her nerves. From her teammates and coaches, to her parents Rusty and Leann, and the fans in the
stands - she says help keep her grounded on game nights.
"All the guys patting you on the
helmet telling you to come on and the coaches telling me that I've got this and all the comfort from
family and friends and fans - the nerves go right away," Gregg said.
Even with all the
positive support, Gregg said she has had to face doubters throughout the season.
always going to be those people that will say you don't need to be out there or girls can't play
football," Gregg said. "It's kind of like, it's not to prove something, but it's just if I am
blessed to be able to do something - I'm going to do it to the best of my ability, no matter
"It's not for anybody, it's for myself," Gregg said. "When everybody asks why I am
doing it, I tell them that if I can do it, I'm going to do it for the glory of God, not
Despite not wanting to draw attention to herself for kicking for the football team,
Gregg knows that people will want to see her fail, just because she's a girl playing the
"This past Monday, the freshmen boys were telling me the Northview freshmen were
making fun of me and talking about me during their game," Gregg said. "I told them, 'Do you think I
care? I'm not here for them.'
"People are wanting to see me fail," Gregg said. "That's OK. I
know I'm going to at some point, but it's part of the journey."
Gregg's journey to this
point involves a number of different hats and many roles she plays during the day. One of the top
academic students at CCHS, she takes a pair of classes there, while also being involved in the
dual-enrollment program through Walters State Community College. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she
takes afternoon chemistry and composition at the college.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, Gregg
replaces her college work for football practice. Every day, except for Fridays, Gregg travels to
Knoxville for soccer practice from 7-9:30 p.m. Homework, of course, comes either on the drive home
or when she arrives back in Newport.
So when does she sleep?
said. "I'd rather have it that way than anyway else, I always like to stay busy."
had her hands full with a busy schedule last Friday night - which was homecoming at Cocke County
High School. Gregg was elected by the senior class to be one of the eight contestants for homecoming
queen. Not a problem for the other seven contestants, but a major one for someone else who might
have other duties just minutes after the crowning of a new queen.
"It was stressful," Gregg
said. "All day thinking of having to do this and this and this, but I just had to put it on my
shoulders and take it one step at a time."
Gregg spent the required pre game time with the
team after school, before changing into her homecoming dress for the official school photographs.
Then it was a rush back to the stadium to get into her football gear and warm-up. All that prior to
the homecoming ceremony, which she participated in clad in her red number seven football
"After warm ups, all the other homecoming girls said they were about to be sick over
homecoming," Gregg said. "I told them it would be OK and that they all looked gorgeous, as I was
out there in my football stuff sweating."
Once the game starts, Gregg is in her element.
She's made good on 5-of-6 PATs this year and handled all kickoff duties for the team. Despite a
strategy which has the kickoffs angled toward the sideline or on the ground, the possibility is
there that the opponents could break a tackle.
What if Gregg finds herself as the last
line of defense to prevent a touchdown.
"I'm always prepared," Gregg said. "The coaches
said there's no sense in the boys letting them get through, so it shouldn't be a problem, but if
it its, I have to take the angle, jump on their back and grab them by the throat and go with
Being rough comes with the sport of soccer. While some consider the sport a finesse
game, there's a reason it's labeled as football in other countries.
"(Contact sport) is the
definition of soccer," Gregg said. "You look up soccer, it's a contact sport, soccer is pretty
rough around the edges."
Life at home as the middle child can also get rough, as
"I've got a little brother, Drew, who always plays football," Gregg said. "I always
mess around with my dad and stuff, and Mikayla - you know how siblings are."
whirlwind experience which has taken off over the past month for Gregg, while stressful, has been
a blessing to the Cocke County High School senior.
"I am so blessed beyond measure," Gregg
said. "It's been a great opportunity to play with such an amazing, supporting and loving
environment; having a whole separate family at school that has my back, along with the community
The past month has also helped her grow in her faith.
"You have to stay
strong in your faith," Gregg said. "The scripture I stand on is, 'A man is what he thinks he
"People have laughed in my face and behind my back on everything I have done, said or
dream of from soccer to football," Gregg said. "But that drives me - it does not break me. They do
not know what my future holds and neither do I, but I will work my way in a direction I need to go
with heart, passion and force. You always have to try something new, because you never know -
you'll regret it if you don't try."
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