When Kenzie Murdoch joined the girls flag football team at Shadow Ridge High, her intentions were simple: She loved football. Couldn’t get enough of the sport, actually.
Never in her wildest imagination did she think she would play in college. And that it would help pay for her schooling.
Murdoch, a linebacker and center, was one of three girls flag football players from Las Vegas who last week signed letters of intent to play flag football in college.
Nevada was one of the first states to have prep girls flag football in the early 2010s. It has expanded to other states, and now into college with a handful of universities offering the sport.
This is the second year a few Las Vegas players received a college spot, which comes with some scholarship money and financial aid. The NFL partnered with 15 universities last July to help launch the sport collegiately.
Murdoch, who signed with Cottey College in Missouri, didn’t realize she would be one of the fortunate ones to be considered for the next level until Cottey coaches contacted her last summer. Much like recruiting for other sports, the coaches saw something they liked in Murdoch’s game film. Noted for her defense, Murdoch had 78 tackles, five sacks, one interception and a defensive touchdown over the past two seasons. Her senior year never happened because of COVID.
“Flag football doesn’t get enough appreciation for its intensity and competitiveness,” Murdoch said.
The NAIA is forming the infrastructure to govern the sport, which is labeled as having “emerging” status. Once 40 total schools declare the intent to participate, it can become a championship sport, according to CBS.
“Football is for everyone,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations in a news release. “This groundbreaking and historic joint venture provides an opportunity for the values, fun, and competitive environment of football to be enjoyed as a varsity sport by female student-athletes attending NAIA institutions across America.”
Murdoch also played junior varsity on the Mustangs’ boys tackle team, as well as volleyball and club lacrosse. She never expected to play flag football in college, but there she was last week on national signing day with her family and coaches signing the scholarship papers.
“It was really so unexpected that it hasn’t set in yet,” she said. “I’m super proud to have that title (as one of the first college players) and excited to go play at the next level.”
She’s not the only Las Vegan who signed last week on national signing day.
E’leseana Patterson, a quarterback and linebacker from Cheyenne, signed with Midland University of Nebraska. Patterson was a two-time state player of the year, including in 2018-19 when she passed for 2,700 yards and 28 touchdowns and ran for 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns in leading the Desert Shields to the 3A state championship. Desert Oasis' Ashlyn Tuss, who last season had 1,100 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, signed last week with the University of Saint Mary in Kansas.
Patterson will be one of four Las Vegas players on the Midland roster, joining 2020 graduates Mikaela Nunez (Legacy), Laleleimonalisa Howard (Shadow Ridge) and Eyrnne Christopher (Canyon Springs). As a senior in 2019-20, Nunez had 2,218 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns at wide receiver, and defensively recorded 134 tackles and 12 interceptions.
Because the sport is more established in Southern Nevada, Las Vegas athletes should have an inside track of populating college rosters. That means scholarship money. At Cottey, for instance, three 2020 graduates from state champion Green Valley High are on the roster in center Justina Coronado, linebacker Anna Marie Arce and quarterback Jennifer Haberstock.
At Ottawa College in Kansas, nine of the 20 players on the roster hail from Green Valley, including Jazlyn Camacho who was the two-time 4A player of the year. Two others, Ylla Aparece from Clark and Hope Humes of Sunrise Mountain, also play for Ottawa.
The other schools to launch the sport include: Florida Memorial University, Kansas Wesleyan University, Keiser University (Fla.), Milligan College (Tenn.), Reinhardt University (Ga.), Tougaloo College (Miss.), St. Thomas University (Fla.), Warner University (Fla.), Webber International University (Fla.), and Xavier University of Louisiana.
Games in the initial season begin this spring.
"We are excited to be one of the institutions leading the way for flag football as a new emerging sport in the NAIA and we are looking forward to ... assisting to build a strong nucleus for flag in the Midwest," said Stephanie Beason, the Cottey athletic director, in a news release.