Will Conybeare, Patrick O’Connor, and Krystle Rich-Bell
Thousand Oaks and Agoura High Schools have been battling on the gridiron since the 1960s in boys football, but a new group of players took to the field on Thursday.
Girls flag football was recently sanctioned as a high school sport in California after a unanimous vote from the California Interscholastic Federation last spring.
According to Thousand Oaks High School girls football head coach Mike Leibin, the program was popular from the start.
“The second day we got out here, we had 51 girls,” he said. “Obviously there’s a big interest…it’s popped up at virtually every school.”
Coaches aren’t the only ones going all in on the gridiron; the girls are having a blast too.
“It’s nice to have another opportunity and learn new skills,” said Morgan Humphrey, who plays running back and strong safety for Thousand Oaks.
Unlike the boys, there is no blocking, tackling or kicking in the girls’ game. Teams play seven-on-seven on an 80-yard field, and when a touchdown is scored, the girls can either attempt a one-point conversion play from the three yard line or a two-point conversion play from 10 yards out.
Other than that, it’s just football, trash talk included.
“You can definitely hear a little bit of trash talking here and there,” said Humphrey, who now holds the school record with three interceptions in one game. “But I think that’s fun.”
The playbooks traditionally used by high school boys football teams translate well to the girls, evidenced by a well-executed hook-and-ladder by Thousand Oaks that resulted in a 40-yard gain.
“On offense, we’re running four verticals, tosses and sweeps,” Leibin said. “On defense, we play a true cover two…all stuff that translates to the boys’ game.”
Leibin, who spent 10 of his 25 years as a head coach in Ventura County with the Thousand Oaks High School’s boys team, says that he loves his new role as head of the girls team, and he credits that to being the father of two daughters.
Despite stepping down as Thousand Oaks’ head coach in 2018 so he could spend time with his daughters, Leibin knew he had to jump at the opportunity to coach the girls.
“Somebody came out to practice [and said] ‘I can tell instantly that when you’re coaching those girls, you’re talking to your daughters’,” he said. “So, that’s definitely helped.”
There were some struggles at the beginning; Leibin and assistant coach Jason Brown recall having to teach the girls — many of whom are experienced athletes in other sports — some of the basic fundamentals of football.
“We had to teach them how to catch,” Leibin said. “I have a ton of great soccer players on my team who have never used their hands in their life!”
And while the boys’ side of high school football has grown into a multi-million-dollar industry, these girls just want to have fun.
“They aren’t out here trying to get a scholarship,” Leibin said. “They’re out here in the purest form…they want to come out and compete and learn a sport and play together, and as a coach, that’s the dream.”
Thousand Oaks High School came out victorious against Agoura Hills High School on Friday, winning by a score of 13-6.