At first, the acceptance wasn’t there. That was, until they realized what she could do for them.During her sophomore year, Eastport South Manor soccer player Nijay Brown was recruited to join the football program as a kicker following a conversation between the girls soccer and football coaching staffs and a review of her skills proved she could be of use on the gridiron.
“My soccer coach was telling the football coach that I can kick 90 yards,” said the now 16-year-old junior. “So he came down and saw me kick. He said, ‘We’re struggling, so why don’t you come down and help us out.’”
She continued, “When the coach asked me to play, I was happy. I was confident I could do it. It was cool to be on the team.”
In her first season playing football, Brown said, she was immediately accepted as a member of the junior varsity team. However, she moved up to varsity squad for the final three games of the 2012 season and the transition was not as smooth with her varsity teammates.
“At first, they didn’t like it because I was a girl and maybe taking one of their spots,” Brown said of joining the varsity team. “But then when they saw me kick, they were like, ‘Oh you can help us.’ Now they consider me like family.”
And help them she has.
Brown has already come up big so far this season for the football team, nailing the game-winning extra point in the season opener against Amityville. With her team locked in a 12-12 tie with just 38 seconds to go, she split the uprights to lift her team to victory.
“I was shaking, I was so nervous,” Brown said of taking the field for the game-winning kick. “But all the guys on the team were like, ‘You’ve done this a million times, why are you nervous?’”
She also made good on three of four point-after attempts as the Sharks upset Sayville, 35-34, in OT in week three.
According to Brown, her longest field goal made in practice is 55 yards while she’s hit a 40-yarder in a game.
Being a part of a large family, like the football team, is something Brown knows well. She has 10 siblings.
Brown was adopted by Warren and Sharon Brown at the age of 2, along with her then-infant sister, Keara, who is also on the ESM varsity soccer team. In addition to Keara, Brown has five older biological brothers who don’t live with her, along with four siblings, two sisters and two brothers, who are Warren and Sharon’s biological children. When talking about her family, how it’s a bit hectic at home and not unlike most other families, especially those with a lot of children, she casually mentions that her adoptive family is white, a fact that may seem foreign to many but not to Brown. To her, it’s just like saying she’s a girl or she likes sports.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It’s just the way it is. I don’t know any different. Everyone should just accept everyone else.”
Life at home is busy and life at school is just as hectic, especially during the fall.
Once classes are done each day, things do not settle down for Brown, who attends football practice for about 20 minutes before heading over to practice with the soccer team. On top of practices, there are two to three soccer games per week along with a football game. However, having a life full of athletics is nothing new to Brown, who has been playing sports year-round since her legs could carry her, involved with soccer, basketball and lacrosse since before she was in school.
“She’s a great kid,” ESM girls varsity soccer coach Becky Thorn said. “She’s our leading scorer and a definite threat on our team. Not only can she kick but she has a really great throw-in. If we have anything inside the 18, we have her take it and she can hit into the middle of the six.”
Brown’s soccer coach’s lone concern about her being on the football team, playing with a bunch of boys, is not what one might expect.
“I’m not scared of her getting injured because I’m sure she could take down most of those boys,” Thorn said with a laugh. “It’s more about fundamentals. When she kicks the football, she tends to lift the ball. In the beginning of the soccer season, everything was soaring over the goal post and we had to keep stressing that for soccer, she needs to keep it down. She’s got a great kick. Just have to make sure she uses the right mechanics on each.”
While she is just getting her junior year under way, Brown has already started to think about what she’s going to do for her next step in life. She’s undecided on where she wants to go to college or what she wants to study, but one thing she does know for sure, she wants to keep playing football.
“I want to be the first girl to get a scholarship for football,” she said. “I think I can do it.”