When Alisa Fallon stepped up to the line to take her turn at the Punt, Pass & Kick National Finals, the mantra her trainer had given her was all she could hear: "Head down. Five steps back. Two steps to the side. Keep your eye on the part of the ball that you want to kick. The crowd will tell you where the ball goes."
The 144 foot, 3 inch kick flew perfectly straight, striking the tape, and breaking the record for the Girls 14/15 age division. Fallon's 121 foot, 2 inch punt and her 122 foot pass netted her a score of 387 feet, 5 inches, a record high, beating the second-place contestant representing the San Diego Chargers by more than 11 inches.
"I felt great relief and satisfaction," said Fallon, "and I couldn't wait to tell all the people at home who helped me train for this event. We took it all the way this year!"
Fallon's journey to the finals this year began on Sept. 22 at the local Punt, Pass & Kick skills competition at Prairie Lakes Community Center.
Her score of 324 feet qualified her to move on to the Sectionals, held Oct. 20 in Hoffman Estates. Her top score at Sectionals advanced her to the Team Championships Nov. 16 at the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
There, Fallon's 107 foot, 7 inch punt, 99 foot pass, and 110 foot kick netted a high score of 316 feet, 7 inches and the opportunity to compete at Nationals for a second year in a row. In the 2013 competition in Atlanta, Ga., Fallon scored 302 feet, taking second place in the Girls 12/13 age bracket.
The National Finals this year were held at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Jan. 11.
"The air was so thin, I was out of breath just walking to the bus," said Fallon.
"When I saw Lalelei Mataafa's 145 foot pass I thought, 'We're dead,'" said Shelly Fallon, Alisa's mom. "Then Alisa stepped up and drilled that beautifully straight kick, and I thought, 'That's my daughter.'"
Four records were set this year in the Girls 14/15 age group: Fallon's kick, Mataafa's pass, Kaya Kline's 143 foot punt, and Fallon's total score.
"I knew I had to believe that I could be the best," said Fallon. "This achievement shows that in any type of competition, girls can be just as good as boys."
Fallon's passion for football grew from summers spent playing ball with her older cousins in Springfield. Two of her cousins, Tony and Joey Giovannelli, currently play football at The United States Military Academy at West Point.
"I have always wanted to be like Tony," said Fallon.
A fierce athlete in her own right, Fallon is a forward on the Our Lady of Destiny basketball team, and, as a guard on her traveling basketball team, she's known for her jump shot and three-point accuracy. She also plays volleyball and runs track.
"I am competitive," Fallon said, "but I have never fouled out, been ejected from a game, received a technical foul, or intentionally hit another player."
She dedicates her games to athletes she admires and family members she loves. She will attend Trinity High School in River Forest in the fall and play basketball for Coach Eddie Stritzel.
"My basketball coach at Our Lady of Destiny, Bob Rice, told Coach Stritzel "to come and check her out." Fallon is excited to play at the college preparatory school that has an "amazing facility and an excellent academic program."
"Coach Stritzel is sincere, with high expectations and a comprehensive plan to challenge, strengthen, and stretch my skills," Fallon said.
To prepare for the National PP&K competition, Fallon worked with her strength training coach, Connor Flahive of FAST in Des Plaines. Several weeks before the competition, Flahive and Fallon practiced at the Rosemont Dome.
"Since I didn't have any formal kicking training and I am a toe kicker, Connor thought it would be a good idea to teach me how to kick like soccer players kick, using the laces part of my foot. He said it would give me more body strength to draw upon and, therefore, more power."
After several practices, and kicks that barely went any distance, Flahive decided "we should stick with the toe," and the rest is history.
Fallon and the nine other champions were recognized on Sunday, Jan. 12, at Mile High Stadium at the Broncos vs. Chargers AFC Divisional Playoff game. The crowd of 78,000 and the NFL players on the field applauded and cheered for them. Immediately, all social media sites were ablaze with the news.
"I got a shout-out from Martellus Bennett of the Chicago Bears who said, 'You should sign her!' as well as messages from Chicago Sports, Top Golf, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, and the media."
Her cousins' football teammates reached out to her, and many others sent friend requests, and posted comments such as "I know her! I go to school with her!"
"I am thankful and blessed to have won this trophy, gotten the shout-outs, and been publicly recognized," Fallon said "With this kind of publicity comes a great responsibility and an opportunity, a platform, my dad calls it, to use my voice to affect change."
Fallon finds time to play ball with younger children at recess, look out for the underdogs, and fight against any type of bullying behavior.
"I admire Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers," Fallon said. "He is a great advocate for children and sees himself as a work in progress. Sports can only take you so far. The rest is up to me."
While Fallon's athletic accomplishments make her a champion, her humble, unassuming nature makes her a role model. In traditionally male-dominated sports arenas, she has shown poise, determination, and grace. She is eligible to compete next year at the 53rd annual NFL Punt, Pass & Kick in the Girls 14/15 age group.
"If my basketball and academic schedules permit, I would love to compete again. It's a very friendly competition; we all know each other's names by the end of the weekend, and we are treated like rock stars."
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