Playing wide receiver is a special experience for Brenna Ramirez.
“It’s enthralling in an indescribable way when you can go up and go grab it and reach for it or all the different moves you can make like reaching over the shoulder, lunging for it as far as you can,” Ramirez said. “When the outcome goes your way, it’s quite rewarding.”
Ramirez’s passion for football was evident from a young age. As a baby, she slept with a ball in her crib. At 4, she asked her dad and cousin to play the sport in the backyard. At 6, she joined her first team.
Today, the Gilbert High School senior has parlayed her talent into an impressive accolade: one of 12 starters on the 2022 U. S. Girls 17U Flag Football National Team.
This summer, Ramirez and her teammates will face squads from across the globe, the latest step in a football journey that has included multiple teams and a severe injury, but a constant of hard work and love for the game.
“You know how you find a person that is a strong character (with) integrity?” Louis Ramirez, Brenna’s father, said. “Brenna has always lived her life in that fashion. And I think she’s being rewarded for that.”
Louis and Doris, Brenna’s mother, have four girls who have played a variety of sports from soccer to basketball to softball. Yet according to Doris, “football was never on our radar” in terms of sports that her daughter would take up. However, Brenna quickly started showcasing interest in it.
Those moments in the backyard blossomed into Ramirez asking her parents to play organized football. The only option was joining an all-boys flag football team in a recreational league, which is what Ramirez did.
“I knew from when I was younger that this is what I wanted to do,” Ramirez said. “I could play all the other sports in the world, but football was it.”
From National Youth Sports to Coast to Coast to the Gilbert Youth Football League, Ramirez showcased her skill set and interest in pursuing football long-term by charting a path at wide receiver.
Yet once Ramirez turned 14, she aged out of the youth leagues. So Doris went to work searching for opportunities that would allow her daughter to continue her football career.
She found one through USA Football, which represents America in the International Federation of American Football — a group of 71 nations — and is a member of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Ramirez and her family knew of the organization because it sponsored youth tournaments she took part in. With Brenna participating in an upcoming event in San Diego, Doris asked if USA Football would have a scout there analyzing players for the U15 and U17 tryouts.
Even though the organization did not have someone in California, Brenna was able to send over video clips of her play and other information, resulting in an invitation to the event at the Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield, Indiana.
“Most of the girls were from two or three main teams and I and only two other girls from my team were trying out,” Ramirez said. “I was trying out for (U)17, my two teammates were trying out for (U)15. I remember being a lone wolf out there, but just remembering why I was there and (that) I can still make it.”
The July 2021 workout was a triumphant return to athletics for Ramirez, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during club softball the previous August.
Just over two months later, Ramirez learned she earned a spot on the U17 team. But it wasn’t her only large-scale achievement on the football field.
She became determined to play flag football in college after learning programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, an alliance of small colleges and universities in North America, offered the sport. Once it was officially authorized by the NAIA in the summer of 2020, Doris said “we got a bazillion calls.”
Ramirez ended up receiving six offers and after visiting three of the schools, chose Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida. Among the factors that stood out to her about Keiser included an experienced coaching staff and their priorities of players succeeding on the field and in the classroom.
“I always go back to the old adage: the harder you work, the luckier you get,” Louis said. “She has been blessed so many times. You will not believe the things that have come her way. I attribute it to… her whole aura of being positive and hard work.”
This spring, Ramirez and her teammates will take part in practices and tournaments in North Carolina, Florida and Kansas before competing against teams from across the world. She will also take part in high school flag football in Arizona, but not at Gilbert High School.
Unlike her college state of Florida — where girls flag football teams from 320 schools will take the field — the Arizona Interscholastic Association has yet to give the sport official varsity status.
Yet some schools, such as Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, are operating club teams. As a result, Ramirez will join Brian Coger — the coach of the Coyotes’ girls flag football club team — and his first-year program since the high school’s athletic director is allowing students from other schools that don’t have flag football programs to play at Campo Verde.
According to Coger, the AIA is closely following the situation regarding the status of girls flag football at Arizona high schools.
As Ramirez prepares for competition at the high school, international and collegiate levels, those around her have witnessed that she has the skills and techniques to succeed. Most importantly, Ramirez — who wears No. 11 in part because her father’s favorite player is former Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald — is ready to show everybody her talent on the football field.
“This is what I’ve waited for my entire life,” Ramirez said.