On December 25, 2002, Katie Hnida became the first woman to participate in a Division I-A college football game. She appeared on the field as a kicker for the University of New Mexico Lobos with 8:20 left to play in the first quarter in the Las Vegas Bowl (which also makes her the first woman to appear in a college football bowl game). The team had just scored their first touchdown of the game, giving the Lobos a 6-3 lead, when she was called upon to kick the extra point for her team.
Katie grew up in Littleton, Colorado, and attended Chatfield High, where she was the second string placekicker for the high school football team for four years. During that run, she attempted four field goals and made all of them. She was also named Homecoming Queen of her high school.
In 1998, Rick Neuheisel, the head coach at Colorado University, publicly encouraged Katie to try out for the football team at Colorado, shortly before he would leave the school and go to Washington University. His replacement, Gary Barnett, honored his predecessor's initiative, allowing her to continue to compete for kicking positions on the team, and eventually placed her on the roster for Colorado's team in the 1999 insight.com Bowl team, although she did not appear.
However, this was the peak of her tenure at Colorado University. She did not appear on a team roster in 2000 or 2001, so in early 2002, she decided to transfer to another school that would allow her the chance to play. She strongly considered USC before the University of New Mexico offered her the opportunity to practice with the team for a full season, which she had been denied prior to that.
So, she took up the practicing with abandon, making the third string kicking position, and she eventually earned a place on the team's roster when they went to a postseason bowl game, the Las Vegas Bowl, in which she made her debut. Some attention was paid to her on ESPN2, which televised the game; she was clearly nervous and requested that a priest say a prayer for her as she took the field.
In terms of eligibility, at the end of the 2002 season Katie has only used three of her four years of eligibility, meaning that she is eligible to play next year for the University of New Mexico. She is very proficient at short kicks, such as PATs and short field goals, making these with the highest percentage of the kickers on the roster, but she lacks much of the diversity of the other players, as she is not strong in positioning herself in the event of botched kicks, punting, long field goals, or other elements of the kicking game. However, it is strongly possible that she will see significant playing time next season.
Other Women In College Football
It should be noted that two other women have participated in college football in the United States.
Heather Mercer played for Duke University in 1995. She was listed in the official roster for the season and her picture was in the football yearbook. The highlight of her tenure with the team was booting the winning field goal in the spring scrimmage in 1995 (for those non-football fans, it is an exhibition game in which the football team is split into two teams and play against each other for practice). However, she was removed from the team prior to the start of the actual season, mostly due to conflicts with the head coach; this resulted in a discrimination case between Mercer and the team that is still ongoing.
Then, in 1997, Liz Heaston made two out of four PAT attempts her junior year at Willamette University in Salem, OR, kicking two extra points in the Bearcats' homecoming game. The team's kicker was injured in their season's first weeks, and the team turned to first the men's soccer team for a replacement. Finding no good matches there, the team turned to the women's soccer team, and Heaston was an All-American in women's soccer. However, Williamette at the time was not considered to have a NCAA collegiate football program; they were, however, the NAIA champions that year.