Averett’s First Female Football Player Realizes Opportunity is ‘Much Bigger than’ Herself

Posted on August 22nd, 2018 by Cassie Jones

By Drew Wilson, sports information director.

Bailey Blake never had considered the thought of playing college football. Even though she kicked for three seasons at Kinston High School, she figured if anything she’d play soccer beyond high school. Yet, a year later, Blake finds herself set to make history as the first female football player at Averett University.

“I just admire her because she is a pioneer,” said fifth-year Averett head coach Cleive Adams.

As a high school senior, Blake’s path to college began its unexpected course when she received an email from the Averett coaching staff. Each year, the coaches send out a blast mailing to prospective recruits to invite them to come experience a game day on campus. Because Blake was rated within Averett’s recruit database, she was among those who received the open-ended offer.

“Bailey can go as a boy’s name or a girl’s name, so my dad called and told the coaches, ‘I just want you to know that she’s a female,'” Blake said.

Adams said initially the coaching staff wasn’t aware that Blake was a female.

“A lot of times, you haven’t really established a working relationship with many kids that early in the process,” he said.

Averett associate head coach Patrick Henry, who took the call from Chuck Blake, confirmed that they would still like to have Blake come up to a recruiting day. So Blake and her family made an unofficial visit last fall to see the Cougars play Maryville College and learn more about the program. She met members of the coaching staff, including kicking coach Al Smith, as well as Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks and Director of Athletics Meg Stevens. It made an instant impression on the then-17-year-old.

“That’s when I knew this was a family atmosphere,” said Blake, who returned for another visit last December. “This is what it is like at home. I knew this is somewhere I wanted to be at. As soon as I came up for a visit, I didn’t apply to another school. I only applied to five schools to begin with, but I didn’t want to apply anywhere else because I knew this is where I wanted to go.”

Blake committed to Averett in December and then did her celebratory signing in February.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Bailey to have the opportunity to pursue her dreams of playing college football at Averett,” Franks said. “From my first visit with her, I was so impressed with her self-discipline and determination, and it was clear she knew what she wanted to achieve both academically and athletically. I am delighted she chose Averett University.”


Playing football wasn’t really on Blake’s radar growing up as a soccer player in Kinston, North Carolina. Her brother was a soccer player as well. Blake’s high school team had lost the conference championship a year earlier by one point — which was magnified by the fact that the team didn’t have a true kicker. So during her freshman year of high school, the wheels were set in motion for her to give football a try.

“The head coach was really fond of my brother and he came up to me and said, ‘What do you think about kicking for us next year?’ I just kind of laughed it off thinking it was a joke,” Blake recalled. “But then I thought about it and thought, ‘You know, I think I could do that.'”

Blake joined the team during spring practice and kicked for her final three seasons at Kinston High. She became the second female kicker in North Carolina to score in a state football championship game in 2015 and was a three-time all-area kicker for the Vikings.

Smith, who is in his 19th season as Averett’s kicking coach, first saw Blake kick during one of her visits to campus.

“I thought, ‘There is some potential right here,'” said Smith, who in more than 30 years of coaching kickers had never had the opportunity to mentor a female kicker. “I got to talking to her and found out she really hadn’t had a kicking coach. She was kind of doing it on her own.”

Nearly two weeks into practice, Smith is helping Blake adjust to becoming a college kicker. Whether someone is a male or the lone female on a team of more than 150 players, being a freshman in preseason camp can be intimidating enough as it is.

“She’s a typical freshman coming in to kick,” Smith said. “She has room for a lot of improvement. She’s digging her heels in, so to speak, and working. The girl’s got a lot of tenacity to her.”

Smith has methodically incorporated Blake into the mix. At first, she was able to watch and learn until she felt comfortable in her new setting. It helps having a pair of veteran kickers around, including 2017 D3football.com First Team All-America kicker Cole Westberry, who was also a Preseason First Team All-America selection this fall. Averett also has Noah Wren, who is no stranger to having a female football teammate. In high school, Wren played with and was close friends with a female kicker.

“I told her these are two of the guys that will be with you at all times,” said Smith, who introduced the two to Blake during a visit. “They’re your brothers and they’re going to have your back.”

And they have.

“It makes me feel secure,” Blake said. “I know I’m not as good as they are. But they take their time to mentor me and make sure I understand what we’re doing and make sure I’m doing the drill right. It’s good to have someone older watching out for you, not just on a friendship level but also on a teammate level. It makes things a lot easier for me.”

Westberry, the incumbent starting kicker, could tell Blake was nervous coming in, but said she is “finding herself at home” two weeks into camp. Wren agreed.

“She’s done really well so far,” Wren said. “We’re working with her every day and pushing her. She’s getting better every day.”

Adams said it’s all about development for Blake.

“She’s pretty consistent from 20 or 25 yards. With our JV games, we hope to have her in an active role with our PAT and field goal opportunities, depending on the distance.

We’ll continue to have her work closely with Al Smith and our strength and conditioning coach Sam Roome to develop her strength, flexibility and swing speed.”

Smith has done his best to help Blake start to see the bigger picture down the road.

“He knows I can get in my head a lot,” Blake said. “He calms me down and tells me that I’ll get it but it will take some time. He reassures me. He knows it’s not going to happen overnight and it takes time and training. It makes me feel better because I know I am going to work for it.”

Smith has used Westberry as an example of how much a player can improve from season to season.

“I told her to keep working like she’s doing and to remember that Cole didn’t get this way in one year,” Smith said. “We had work and he worked. And he’s better this year than he was the last two already. She can get much better than what she is. She said, ‘OK, I’m willing to try.'”


When Blake committed to Averett, Adams was admittedly unsure how everything was going to work at first, especially logistically. Those things quickly worked themselves out. Blake has her own private locker room space in Frank R. Campbell Stadium.

“That’s one thing that really hits me,” Blake said. “I’m not the only one adjusting. Everyone else around me has to adjust because most of those players around me have never played football with a girl. At home, they had three years to adjust to me. Here, it’s going to take some time and you realize that. But Coach Adams has been so great with it. He’ll sit down and have a mature conversation with me and give it to me straight and honest, and that’s what I need. It’s college. We’re 18- to 23-year-olds. We’re grown. It’s good to have someone that keeps it real with you, is honest and adjusts with me. We’ll go through it together.”

Adams’ approach to having a female player is simple.

“Our team and the expectation of our team is first she is a teammate and second she is like our sister,” Adams said. “That’s no different than our guys. First they are teammates and then they are brothers.”

If anything, Adams feels his program is perfectly built for this situation. Since taking over the program, Adams preaches what he calls “BAM” principles — short for “Be A Man” — which include treating women with respect.

“If anybody is going to do it, I think it should be us to step out there and do it,” he said.

Adams has even adapted “BAM” for Blake. Typically Adams ends correspondence with players with “BAM” but for Blake he uses “BAW.”

Blake is making her own adjustments on and off the field. She’s getting used to the rigors of college football and adjusting to the independence that comes along with being a college student. This week, the sports medicine major will add classes to the mix.

“The mentality is what you have to get through, like you own mental thoughts that keep you from doing your best,” she said. “There are a lot of new things. It’s a new place and it’s adjusting to new people. And being in the position that I’m in, it’s a whole nother level of adjustment. But that’s what I signed up for, so you’ve just got to get past the mental part of it. So far it’s going pretty good.”


Bailey is one of a handful of active female college football players across the country. She is aware of the magnifying glass associated with her opportunity.

“I knew this was much bigger than myself,” she said. “Everything is bigger than me at this point. I’m not just doing this for me — but for other females in the country or in the state. You can do whatever you set your mind to do if you want to do it. It places some cement down for a foundation and can build up from that.”

Stevens, a female director of athletics in a position historically held by men across the country, knows the significance of breaking the mold. And she believes Averett is the perfect fit for Blake.

“I love that Bailey chose Averett because she liked the feel of the family atmosphere, which we always talk about not only in athletics but also across all of campus,” Stevens said. “Our football team has welcomed her with open arms as the first female football player in program history. It is a great example of our inclusiveness within our department and within our university.”

And for Adams, his focus is the same for Blake as it is for any of his players during their time at Averett. His job is to prepare them for life.

“She’s an unbelievable young lady and super smart,” Adams said. “She loves Averett and loves this football team. I’m looking forward to having her here and watching her continue to grow and develop as a young lady and as a student-athlete.”

This story was shared from the Averett University Athletics website. To see this story on the Athletics website, click here.