Jenny Mac more than just another football player

As the 2016 female football season progresses, the theme of transition continues to be its definition. Despite the addition of several expansion teams in Legends Football League play, there is also the sullen subtraction of several superstars. With the New England Liberty part of the expansion class, their season held tremendous promise as it was spiced by the presence of a stunning, yet dedicated, protagonist.

Having recently made the visceral decision to hang up her helmet, Jenny Mac was poised to be one of the Liberty’s franchise players, whose leadership presence would have shouldered the burden of expectation to qualify for the postseason. With opening kickoff, Mac’s absence was significant for the Liberty. In their inaugural game, the squad suffered a 26-6 thumping on the road against a reinvented Omaha Heart franchise.

Considering that the New England Liberty continues to endure the expansion blues, Mac’s absence reminds fans what might have been. Of note, the Liberty are not the only team this season that has suffered from the impact of her loss. Having first established herself as a superstar with the Atlanta Steam, arguably the most successful expansion team in LFL history, the perennial contender experienced their own offseason filled with change.

Although the Steam has managed to retain a significant part of their leadership core, highlighted by Dakota Hughes, Leanne Hardin and Dina Wojowski, the first winner of the In the Trenches Award, the loss of Jodie Nettles to retirement and Jenny Mac to free agency altered the team’s composition. One of the great qualities about the Steam was the sense of family that existed within the team. Such sense was a key factor in the Steam qualifying for the 2014 Legends Cup final.

Undoubtedly, the loss of Nettles and Mac adds a feeling of loss for this great family. Both statuesque and competitive, Nettles was easily identified by her trademark tye-dye headbands, while Mac would begin an exceptional trend that added an exciting new dimension to the league and its personalities.

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac was truly one of the league’s originals. Gracing the gridiron with remarkable face painting motifs, it quickly propelled her into the rarified air of both trend setter and superstar. Capturing the imagination of both fans and teammates alike, it triggered a league-wide phenomenon that saw others emulate her unique style.

Steammate Leanne Hardin would adorn her stunning visage with red and black make-up akin to pro wrestling’s legendary Road Warriors. Seattle Mist superstar and 2015 league MVP Danika Brace would adopt a face paint style similar to former wrestling champion Ultimate Warrior. Eventually, it was not uncommon for at least one player on every team to adopt face-painting as a means of both intimidation and motivation.

As captivating as Mac became with her innovative use of face painting, she was far from being just a one-dimensional athlete. There was also a gridiron intensity that constantly provided her team with a chance to win, sending a powerful message.

Perhaps no such message was more evident throughout league circles than the brawl that defined one of the most electrifying postseason contests in league history. In what would prove to be the final contest in Jacksonville Breeze history, the 2014 Eastern Conference final brought out the feline bestiality on both sides.

One of the most iconic images of that scuffle between the Steam and the Breeze was Mac putting out her hand to signify stop towards one of the Breeze players. Amidst such chaos, the hand gesture would signify that Mac meant business, bringing a gradual cease to an otherwise volatile situation. As a side note, three members of the Breeze (Adrian Purnell, Dina Wojowski and Lauran Ziegler) would become Steammates in 2015. Coincidentally, the first match in Liberty history also resulted in a bench clearing brawl with the Omaha Heart, likely rekindling memories among hardcore fans, reminiscent of Mac’s presence.

While the 2016 season should have been the extension of Mac’s gridiron legacy, unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Earlier in the year, Mac was among the Eastern Conference stars that competed in the All-Fantasy Game in Guatemala. Considering that Mac proudly contributed to an Eastern Conference victory, no one could have foreseen that it would be her swan song.

Despite the reality of sport being one where no one is irreplaceable, there is something to be said about personalities and their impact on the field of play. Mac was a model teammate, dedicated to making her team better, while embodying the spirit of friendship exemplified by always having one’s back. Like so many other wondrous women whose hard work and sweat helped build the LFL, Mac made the game so much more enjoyable and the fans who saw her play will always be grateful.

Leanne Hardin the field general of Atlanta Steam’s dominant defense

While the field general is a term usually reserved in football for the quarterback, Leanne Hardin’s military service makes her every bit a field general on the defensive side of the ball. Proudly serving in the United States Air Force, Hardin holds the rank of Staff Sergeant E-5.

Ranking below Technical Sergeant E-6, staff sergeants in the Air Force function as first-line supervisors and fulfill the leadership skills criteria needed to execute such requirements. Fulfilling duties as a Special operations logistics manager in the Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, the values of teamwork were instilled in Hardin long before she enlisted with the Atlanta Steam.

One of the most admirable aspects of her military service occurred in 2013. Of note, she was recognized among 40 empowering women as a nominee for the 4th annual Military Woman of the Year award.

Leanne Hardin does pushups dressed in a bomb suit during an open house at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley/Released)

Leanne Hardin does pushups dressed in a bomb suit during an open house at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley/Released)

Having grown up in Western New York, there is no question that the Buffalo Bills played a prominent role in her love of the gridiron game. A gifted athlete who also excelled in softball, her path would eventually lead her to southern regions such as Georgia and South Carolina (where she has been stationed during her military career). For Hardin, there was one pleasant fact heading into the 2015 Atlanta Steam season as wide receiver Heather Urbank, who also grew up in Western New York, suited up for the squad.

As a charter member of the Steam, Hardin has seen the club develop into a powerhouse. Considering that in its earliest incarnation, many cynics thought the expansion club competing for a championship was an impossible mountain to climb. With superior talents such as Hardin, it suddenly became a goal within reach as the squad reached the league championship game in its sophomore season.

Photo credit by: Luna Francesca Stefanelli

Photo credit by: Luna Francesca Stefanelli

Showing the skill and talent that made her an Eastern Conference All-Star selection in 2014, Hardin provides a performance on the field that is resonant. Adorning her visage in makeup, paying homage to the wrestling superstars of the 1980s and 1990s, it serves as an essential element that transforms the momentum of the locker room into one composed of pure adrenaline. As a side note, teammate Jenny Mac, who also engages in the same pregame ritual, is known affectionately as the Skull Kid. Such creative aspects fuses the feelings of intimidation and admiration, a unique amalgam likely felt by fans and foes alike, synchronously capturing their imaginations.

Having anchored the Steam defensive unit in a milestone victory a few weeks ago, it is part of a team milestone that shall remain preserved in the memories of their devoted fans. Setting a Legends Football League record for the largest margin of victory (a 79-0 whitewash against the Omaha Heart), she returned an interception for a touchdown. She would also record a game-high 8.5 tackles and gain recognition as the Steam’s Defensive Player of the Game.

In practice with Steam rookie Jessie G. Locklear (Image obtained from Facebook)

In practice with Steam rookie Jessie G. Locklear (Image obtained from Facebook)

Equally admirable is her strong sense of friendship and compassion. When Steam teammate Tiana Lopez suffered a horrible accident, nearly costing her life, it was Hardin who went to social media showing her support and providing information to other concerned parties. Along with teammates Dakota Hughes (the recipient of the league’s 2014 Rookie of the Year Award) and Coco Montgomery, this titanic trio participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, showing an inspiring side as sporting humanitarians.

While the reality of the sport, with its obligatory aches and pains, is far different from the perception of glamour and sex appeal in female sport, it only adds to the value of the heroic dreams. For Hardin, such dreams consist of a league championship, which would certainly add punctuation to the pregame streaks of sweat, dirt and smeared makeup that result in the game’s epilogue.

A quiet superstar, whose accomplished glories are those shared with her Steam sisters, her sense of life is truly based in success. Juggling family, military and athletic obligations, her efforts in sporting equality are destined to elevate the Steam to a loftier place in league lore.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, Hardin is a true American hero. While her contributions to the Air Force do not have the same emotional impact as her gridiron game, the hard work, discipline and team first approach runs simultaneous in both aspects of her remarkable life.

Atlanta Steam heartbreakers in record setting 79-0 win over Omaha

Considering that the defending two-time champion Chicago Bliss have moved into the same conference as the Atlanta Steam, a significant statement was made by the club in a convincing win. Going on the road against the Omaha Heart, the Steam not only dominated, but they managed to make history.

In a league record 79-0 win, a very talented Steam lineup dismantled a Heart franchise still looking for their first win of the 2015 indoor women’s football season. As a side note, the original score was 85-0, but a touchdown was revoked by the league office two days later.

Taking into account that the Heart have only three returning players from their 2014 season (which saw them qualify for the postseason), a winless season appears ominously possible. The vast majority of their offensive plays resulted in negative yardage.

Leanne Hardin, one of the team captains, anchored the Steam defensive unit, returning an interception for a touchdown. She would also record a game-high 8.5 tackles and gain recognition as the Steam’s Defensive Player of the Game. Of note, the defense would also record a safety, contributing eight points. In addition, a fumble was recovered a fumble on a night filled with forgettable turnovers for the Heart.

On offense, the Steam benefitted greatly from prized free agent acquisition Dina Wojowski. Equally proficient at the linebacker position, she is the crown jewel for the Steam’s offensive line, enabling sophomore Dakota Hughes to build on the momentum of her impressive 2014 season, which saw her gain 2014 Rookie of the Year honors.

Head coach Dane Robinson recognized Wojowski as the Steam’s Relentless Player of the Game. The other game honor went to Lauran Ziegler, who earned the nod as the Offensive Player of the Game. She would accumulate 59 combined yards from scrimmage (16 yards rushing, 43 yards receiving) while scoring four touchdowns (1 rushing, 3 receiving).

Running back Nas Johnson pounded the Heart defense with a 51-yard effort, including a game-high four rushing touchdowns. Rookie Jessie Locklear would contribute 19 points on the night, via a pair of touchdown returns and successfully converting on seven extra-point attempts.

While the Chicago Bliss currently sit at first overall in the conference (they would beat Omaha by a 49-0 score one week after Atlanta’s record breaking win), the Steam have shown that they are not a team to be taken lightly. As both clubs look towards a championship run, a postseason collision between the two will likely result.

References: Mike Del Rio

Rookie Jenny Mac a one-of-a-kind for the ascending Atlanta Steam

In a season that has seen the Atlanta Steam rise to the upper echelon of indoor female football, an exciting rookie crop injected optimism into a franchise that entered a crossroads after several off-season changes. While Dakota Hughes stole the show as a rookie sensation at quarterback, one of the most charismatic players may have been fellow freshman Jenny Mac.

While there is no denying that the 24 year-old Mac has film star looks, it is the look that she brings to the gridiron that has established her as a competitor to take very seriously. Decorated in white makeup with black on her lips and eyes, she is hard to ignore. Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, her look is akin to former Buffalo Bills linebacker Ray Bentley, who used to wear black makeup as a tribute to one of his favorite rock stars, Alice Cooper.

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac makes an impression on the gridiron (Image obtained from facebook)

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac makes an impression on the gridiron (Image obtained from facebook)

It is an enthusiasm for the game that is quickly establishing her as a fan favorite. While teammate Holly Oakes was featured in a 2013-dated calendar featuring indoor women’s football players, Mac may certainly warrant strong consideration should a 2015 edition reach print.

A wide receiver and a defensive end, the 5’10” Mac was one of the tallest competitors on the team. Statistically, her biggest impact was on the defense, recording 6.5 total tackles. Of note, four were solo efforts while one was for a loss. Although her numbers were not good enough to crack the top five, a member of that group is someone for Mac to look up to.

Providing solid play on both ends of the ball, Coco Montgomery ranked second in receiving and third in total tackles, while leading the team in interceptions. Should Mac manage to emulate such performance in 2015, reaching her potential as an elite wide receiver, it may prove to be the difference between the franchise competing for a championship and winning one. There is no question that she may be the next great Steam player to achieve an All-League selection.

Mac raised eyebrows, being considered best dressed at the indoor football awards by several in social media

Mac raised eyebrows, being considered best dressed at the indoor football awards by several in social media

With great potential, Mac was part of a feel-good story for indoor female football. In a season that saw the Steam welcome many new faces and a new coach (who would go on to win Coach of the Year honors), they were one of only two franchises to start the year at 3-0. Ironically, the other club was the Chicago Bliss, whom the Steam would face in the championship game.

Although the title game did not bring the desired result for Mac and her Steam mates, it was certainly a coming-out party, establishing the Steam and its players among the elites of the gridiron. Not only did the Skull Kid persona reach a much larger audience, but her presence at the awards ceremony made an impression. Many female football fans in social media named her the best dressed at the event. Perhaps next year, she will enjoy an award nomination to complement her style. Certainly, fans are hoping that the next chapter of the Jenny Mac Story is one filled with future glories.

Strong season for Chicago Bliss culminates in second straight indoor football championship

For the second consecutive season, the Chicago Bliss held off pressure from Western Conference rivals Los Angeles and Seattle to finish in the championship picture. With 2013 Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia having folded in the off-season, a new opponent would rise to challenge the Bliss for indoor football supremacy.

Led by multi-sport star Jodie Nettles and rookie quarterback Dakota Hughes, the Atlanta Steam would grab the Eastern Conference crown in only their second season. In addition, head coach Dane Robinson would earn Coach of the Year honors. Defeating an ambitious Jacksonville squad led by two-way threat Saige Steinmetz, the Steam were hoping to complete their dream season by overcoming the defending league champs.

Once again, Heather Furr established herself as the heartbeat of the club. Known affectionately as Rockstar, her poise relieved the burden of pressure that accompanies high expectations. Complemented by the veteran presence of Chris’Dell Harris on the Bliss’ offensive attack and Kim Perez anchoring the defense, their 5-0-1 mark paced all teams in female indoor football.

Quarterback Heather Furr proudly shows off the Legends Cup in center field of Chicago's famous Wrigley Field (Image obtained from Facebook)

Quarterback Heather Furr proudly shows off the Legends Cup in center field of Chicago’s famous Wrigley Field (Image obtained from Facebook)

Of note, Harris finished as the league’s rushing and receiving champion. Her 621 rushing yards was more than double the amount of yards accumulated by runner-up Saige Steinmetz (who ran for 305 yards). Leading all Bliss players with eight touchdowns (four receiving and four rushing), she was a key reason that the club outscored opponents by an average of 30.3 to 18.3 points. In addition, the club posted impressive marks of 63% on third down conversions, followed by a remarkable 86% conversion on fourth down.

By season’s end, Bliss players finished in the top five of all six major statistical categories (passing, rushing, receiving, tackles, sacks, interceptions). Despite the Bliss adopting more of a rushing game, Heather Furr finished as the third-ranked passer in the league.

Kim Perez, who tied with teammate Yahshi Rice for the league lead in sacks (Chantel Taylor would rank fourth), also finished second in league play with three interceptions. Atop the leader board in tackles was Dominique Collins, recording 29.5 tackles. Not far behind was Rice, ranking third in tackles.

The road to the championship began with a May 9 match against Los Angeles, one of the first dynasties in indoor female football. A 25-21 win on home soil was followed by a rare occurrence. Hosting the Seattle Mist, another title contender, the contest ended in a 34-34 draw.

Travelling to Las Vegas for the third match of the season, the Bliss managed to overcome rookie sensation Sindy Cummings and prevailed with a hard-fought 27-18 victory. This was followed by the renewal of their storied rivalry with the Green Bay Chill on July 23.

Unfortunately, the rivalry lost a distinct feeling with the absence of quarterback Anne Erler. As a side note, Erler and Furr were teammates on the Saskatoon Sirens. Competing against another rookie quarterback, the Bliss made a strong statement, emerging victorious in a convincing 32-7 win.

After a 3-0-1 regular season, the Bliss travelled to Ontario, California for the Western Conference title game against Los Angeles. With LA looking for their fourth title in franchise history, they were hoping that home field advantage would work in their favor. After defeating their rivals, the Seattle Mist, they were not able to overcome a well-rested Bliss team. A 40-12 victory for Chicago was a victory worthy of their status as an elite club.

Returning to Ontario for the championship game against Atlanta on September 6, it would prove to be a hard-fought match. Only holding a two-point advantage at halftime with an 8-6 lead, Chicago would manage to hold on for a nail-biting 24-18 tally after four quarters of play. While the Steam played valiantly, they managed to earn the respect of fans and foes alike, a significant accomplishment.

The second straight title solidifies Furr’s legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks in female indoor football. It was no surprise that she was one of four finalists for the inaugural indoor female football Hall of Fame. Along with the impact of the Chicago Force in the Women’s Football Alliance, the Bliss have contributed to a remarkable period of female football in the Windy City, which may be unrivaled for years to come.

Jodie Nettles brings versatility and team spirit to Steam’s sophomore season

A charter member of the Atlanta Steam, Jodie Nettles embodies the competitive spirit that has transformed the nascent franchise into a postseason contender. Her strong leadership this year has proven to be one of the defining moments in her football career.

Experience as a backup quarterback with the Atlanta Xplosion, an outdoor football team, and qualifying for the roster of the indoor football Tampa Breeze in 2010, it is part of a bigger sporting picture that is filled with many empowering moments. Having carved her mark in track and field as the first female pole vaulter in Georgia Tech history,

Bringing remarkable versatility to the gridiron, Nettles was called upon to bring a greater leadership role in the Steam’s sophomore campaign. Considering that the club suffered player turnover, along with a head coaching change, there were concerns about the new-look club’s ability to perform on the field.

Photography by David Avent (http://www.photogdavid.net/)

Photography by David Avent (http://www.photogdavid.net/)

Nettles would set a positive tone with her remarkable team spirit. During training camp, rookie Dakota Hughes emerged as a contender for the starting quarterback job. As a side note, Las Vegas and Toledo would begin their indoor football season in 2014 with rookie signal callers. Defusing a quarterback controversy, Nettles showed great maturity by serving as a mentor for Hughes after she earned the starter’s nod.

Unexpectedly, Nettles would quickly find herself lining up behind centre. After her indoor football debut, Hughes’ season was sidelined by a wrist injury. Playing valiantly in the Steam’s season opener, a 20-13 win against the Omaha Heart, Hughes would connect with Nettles for two touchdown passes, including the game winning score.

Fan artwork by Dave Freewalt paying homage to football video games on 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (Obtained from Instagram)

Fan artwork by Dave Freewalt paying homage to football video games on 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (Obtained from Instagram)

With Nettles taking the reins for the Steam’s second game of its indoor football season, she would log 83 passing yards and two touchdown passes (to Dee Salter and Coco Montgomery) in a convincing 40-13 win against the Toledo Crush. Completing 50 percent of her passes, she would post an efficiency rating of 209.5. This season has seen Nettles emerge as a big play maker for the Steam, keeping the club in more than just the playoff picture, but a second straight division title.