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Girl quarterback defies convention

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TALENT — The 13-year-old girl didn’t stand a chance. The boy, big and strong and fast, hit her with the force of a Mack truck. She crashed to the ground, her senses sent on a joy ride, her tailbone aching.

If she wanted to cry, she didn’t.

This version of the “Quarterback Princess” bounced up and returned to the game.

Lola Lumbreras, a Talent Middle School eighth-grader and the football team’s starting signal caller, is wrangling with convention.

“It was very important to not just lay there,” she says, “and let people’s expectations and what they think about me be true because I want to defy expectations and be better than what they think.”

If they think she’s soft, they’re wrong.

If they think she’s an inferior player, they’re wrong.

If they think she’s playing for any reason other than the love of sport, uh-uh.

It’s not uncommon for girls to play tackle football at lower levels, such as Pop Warner or middle school, says Talent coach Quin Haldane. Most often, they are in line positions rather than skill positions, let alone the skill position.

As soon as Haldane saw Lumbreras make a few passes when the team came together in August, that her footwork in the pocket was precise, her plant solid, her throws accurate, he knew she could be the starting quarterback.

Her Bulldog teammates didn’t need convincing, either.

“I don’t think they even see her as anything but a good football player,” says Haldane. “Her talent really speaks for itself. She’s one of our fastest kids out there, she can do more push-ups than most of the boys, more sit-ups, so there’s no limits there at all.”

The Selden brothers, twins Jackson and Jenner, play wide receiver and have known Lumbreras since the first grade.

When Jenner saw her at quarterback — she was a receiver in her first season of tackle football last year — he was impressed. In Pop Warner, passes were often lobbed.

“Sometimes you need a pass that gets directly to you,” he says.

Jackson agreed, noting Lumbreras excels on quick, intermediate routes.

“She has heart,” he says. “She seems confident about her position.”

Lumbreras has long had an athletic bent, eschewing, her father Marcos says, stereotypical “girlie” things. She carried a football around as a baby. She last wore a dress, he says, to a fifth-grade recital.

Although Lola played YMCA flag football for years, Marcos and Lola’s mother, Maggie Staley, didn’t want her playing tackle football. They relented when she got to seventh grade.

“The boys seemed to be about the same even keel,” says Marcos. “We gave her a shot.”

Concussions were a concern, so learning the correct way to tackle was important.

In fact, the 5-foot-5, 125-pound Lola was more concerned about tackling than being tackled.

“I knew you had to do it the right way,” she says, “and if you don’t, there’s a very likely chance you’ll get injured.”’

She didn’t leave that, or much of anything, to chance as she readied for this, her eighth-grade season. Lumbreras hoped to get a shot at quarterback last year, but it didn’t materialize.

When school let out, she embarked on her own summer school.

“I was on YouTube a lot watching these quarterback training videos,” she says. “I was trying to follow the steps and dropbacks and trying to get my throwing motion correct because last year it wasn’t right.”

Something she hasn’t watched is “Quarterback Princess,” a 1983 made-for-TV movie starring Helen Hunt. It tells the story of a girl at Philomath High, near Corvallis, who was her school’s quarterback and prom queen.

Lumbreras went all in on her own quest to play the position, to “get the chance I didn’t have last year,” she says.

When she needed receivers, she enlisted her father or, when they visited, his friends.

Lola’s interest in football began with her dad, who was an all-state defensive back for Lost River in the early 1990s.

“I’ve always looked up to my dad and kind of want to be like him,” she says.

Before her attention turned to quarterbacking, she enjoyed watching the likes of wide receiver Odell Beckham and running back Christian McCaffrey. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was a favorite of hers when he was still at Texas Tech.

With preparatory work complete, Lumbreras showed up to practice in late summer and found in Haldane a coach with no qualms about playing a girl at quarterback.

“All I had to see was that she could actually play,” he says. “She could throw the ball, she could make decisions, she could remember her plays. That’s one of the cool things. She’s already memorized all the plays. I think she’s the only player on the team who took the playbook home and actually memorized the plays.”

He named her the starter.

She did a double take.

“I was surprised,” she grins. “He said, ‘I want you to quarterback,’ and I was like, ‘Me? Wait, me? Are you talking to me?’”

“It was awesome.”

Her teammates thought nothing of it. She’s known most of them for years. They respect her as a friend and as an athlete, she says. She finds them to be, like, “very kind.”

Lumbreras, in turn, takes seriously her role as a leader.

“I try to be confident,” she says, “because I know I’m the leader of this team. If I’m not confident, what does that say to the rest of my team? If I’m worried, they’re going to be worried. I try to stay confident in my team and my abilities.”

Talent is off to a 1-2 start, having lost 34-12 in its most recent game last week against Eagle Point. She left the game when she hurt her hand on an opponent’s helmet while passing, but returned in the second half.

In the opener, Lumbreras ran for a touchdown against Lincoln Savage of Grants Pass. The score came on the play immediately after she was trucked by the big, strong, fast kid; the play that had her dad jumping from his seat, her coach wondering if she could take a hit and her determined to bounce up, and not cry.

“I just had to stay in it,” she says.

On the next snap, she carried out an option to the right and raced to the end zone.

In Week 2, Lumbreras ran for a touchdown and passed for another in a 38-6 victory over McLoughlin of Medford.

The next contest on the Bulldogs’ seven-game schedule is at home at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday against White Mountain of White City.

Lumbreras would like to continue playing football as a freshman in high school next year. After that, she expects to focus on her best sport, basketball, in which she’ll likely make a favorable impression.

That’s something she’s already done this year.

“She’s just finally figuring out who Lola is,” says her dad, Marcos. “That’s something that really impresses me.”

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneLola Lumbreras takes a snap in warm-ups before the Bulldogs’ football game last week against Eagle Point. She is the starting quarterback and and free safety on the eighth-grade squad.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTalent Middle School quarterback Lola Lumbreras throws a pass against Eagle Point last week.