For many students, McKinley Hacker’s schedule would have been full enough already, especially for a senior in high school, when many peers try to take it easy with lighter class loads. But the star soccer player and new commit to Alabama State University decided to add another element beyond her rigorous soccer, school and work routine: she decided to start playing football.
Hacker is now kicking some field goals and extra points for the Maricopa Rams football team, while her brother Jaxon handles kickoffs. In doing so, it is believed Hacker is the first girl to ever score for the Rams, though that bigger picture hasn’t been on her mind.
“I just wanted to compete and be out there doing what I like doing,” Hacker said. “I never really thought about the whole girl thing.”
That athleticism and powerful foot has never been in question for anyone who has watched Hacker play soccer over the years. The forward for the Rams and Phoenix Rising ECNL has been known to score some long, audacious goals, often at the coaches’ order because they know she can do it from parts of the field other can’t.
That talent caught the eye of Alabama State coaches, who had already picked up Maricopa defender and last year’s PinalCentral girls soccer player of the year Madison Tyler a year ago. They recruited Hacker of the phone, then brought her in for a visit over the summer.
Hacker said she was very impressed with the school’s coaching staff, led by Jodie Smith, and their dedication to improving everything about the program, from the facilities to the play on the field. In fact, she said Nelson expects her to break the school record for goals in a season.
“He’s just so passionate about the game there. You could ask him about the grass on the field, and he would talk about it for 15 minutes,” she said. “He really, really cares about taking care of the soccer field and keeping it nice.”
Alabama State is a historically Black university located in Montgomery, one of the epicenters of the United States civil rights movement. A history buff, Hacker took in all the important heritage of the area during her visit. Seemingly every building had some sort of significance, especially with regard to the bus boycotts, and that made her feel connected to the school even more.
But as far as her current school goes, she believes there is more history to be made. For now, it’s the American version of football. Hacker said she had been asked to consider playing the sport since her freshman year, but there never seemed to be enough time. But she got to know Coach Rick Skinner, and once her brother got on the team she committed to Alabama State, it became a lot easier to finally take that leap.
“I really, really liked Coach Skinner. He brought in a different enthusiasm that made it really fun. Getting to know all the guys and seeing them at school have been a cool experience. I almost regret not doing it the past couple years.”
In the season’s first game, Hacker was immediately put into the spotlight, lining up for what would turn out to be a very important extra point on the road against Tucson. She lined up her kick, and it went through the goal posts.
“I honestly didn’t know what to do after, so I just put my hands up in the air,” she said. “When I was watching film I saw a couple players on the sideline also doing it, because they were all excited for me to finally get my first one in a real game.”
The season has had its ups and downs so far, but Hacker has enjoyed her time getting to know new people and having different experiences. It’s hard to do everything, which includes working at Bahama Bucks whenever she has a spare few hours. But with an accommodating boss and a can-do attitude, she’s been able to do it.
The motivation, beyond her distaste for just sitting around, is her love for being a part of a team.
“I think being on a team really helps build you as a person. You develop a certain bond with people, and meet different types of people. You’re all going after one thing and doing it together, and that’s been important to me.”
Right after football season comes soccer season, though in reality the whole year is soccer season for Hacker as she travels around the country with her club team. But this being her senior year, and knowing how far girls soccer has come since she was a freshman, she is ready to finish things strong.
“I think going into last season, we were telling ourselves that since we’re in 6A it’s going to be harder, and it was,” she said. “But we were able to accomplish things we didn’t think we were capable of. We plan on doing the same thing this year.”