YONKERS, N.Y. - Naiyara Smith has been dreaming, planning and preparing for the moment she could walk on to the Gorton High School football field as a player and Thursday her dream came true.
Smith, a senior wide receiver and defensive end, practiced with the rest of her teammate Gorton Wolves for the first time this week, becoming the only female on a Westchester County high school football preseason roster this year.
"Being on the field for the first time was overwhelming," Smith said. "Everyone cheered and clapped and screamed. It was wild. When I first walked into the weight room, the first time I tried to join the team, they didn't take me seriously. But all the guys came on board when they saw that I wanted it so much."
The newest Gorton Wolf said she was motivated to play football after watching the team practice during her sophomore year. Although she did not play sports growing up, she said she admired tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams.
"I remember watching the Gorton team practice and play when I was a sophomore," Smith said. "I didn't have anything to do after school and didn't play other sports, so I thought I'd like to try it because it didn't look to hard. But it is tough and it took a lot to get here."
Faced with strict qualifying rules that discourage Yonkers Public School female students from trying out for boys football teams, Smith applied and failed twice over the last two years to make the physical requirements.
"At first I wasn't built for it," Smith said. "You have to have strength, and be very limber. I got a little angry when I was told I was denied, so I started working out -- jumping rope, lifting weight, running, exercising. It took time. But I just wanted a shot at it."
Gorton football coach Dan DeMatteo has been a strong supporter of Smith's attempt to break the high school football glass ceiling since she came to him the first time asking to play. When she was denied a spot on the team last year, Smith volunteered to be a team manager.
"Girls have asked about being on the team before and I take each request seriously," DeMatteo said. "But many girls just give up and go on to another sport. Naiyara just kept showing up again and again. She never gave up. She passed the physical requirements that a lot of guys would find difficult."
Smith says her support group began with (captains) Nathan Lubin, Jonathon Jones and Will Young and spread to the entire team. Lubin helped her learn to skip rope, taught her running technique and how to block and tackle.
"(Naiyara) is a member of the team just like any other player," Lubin said. "As captains we help every player to get better and the be a part of the team. We are all our brothers and she is our sister."
Young, who had helped mentor Smith as his backup on the defensive line, said Smith has worked hard to be a member of the team.
"She does everything we do," Young said. "We will protect her just like we protect each other. I think she proved that she belongs on the team and she should have been on last year."
Smith said her mother (Lianna Brathwait) was apprehensive at first but joined her support group when she saw her daughter begin the change before her eyes. Smith has dropped more than 25 pounds to her current 150-pound playing weight.
"At first, my mom was worried because I didn't look like I could make it because I was a really big," Smith recalled. "But when she saw me working out in front of my building and slimming down, race in the park with the guys, she realized I was serious and helped me."
The next goal for Smith is to play in a live game and to make that first real block and tackle.
"I hope to get in a game or scrimmage soon," she said. "The guys are going to underestimate me and I'm going to surprise them. I like the hitting and hopefully I can avoid being hit too hard myself. I hope I can be an inspiration to other girls who want to play a sport."