Golden West running back becomes first woman in central section history to run a touchdown on varsity
VISALIA – Angel Celaya is the ultimate athlete. Throughout her life she has played a variety of sports: karate, mixed martial arts and wrestling. She’s even received multiple scholarship offers to wrestle in college. But during the second game of the Golden West football season, she became the first female in Central Section history to score a touchdown.
Standing on a football field behind 200-pound linemen, it is easy to miss Celaya as she is 4 feet 11 inches tall and 120 pounds. Her journey onto the gridiron was met with an array of road blocks.
Celaya began high school at Visalia Technical Early College, but they didn’t have sports. As a result, she was allowed to play at nearby El Diamante High School. Originally, she just wanted to play volleyball, but then she received the ultimate challenge.
“A guy dared me one day saying ‘if you think you’re so tough you should join football.’ I was like ‘Why, because you think I can’t?’ and he said that I can’t…so I signed up the next day.”
Although her dad was a good football player in high school, Celaya had zero knowledge about the game. As a result, she studied the sport every day after school.
“I didn’t even know the difference between offense and defense,” she said. “I would go home to watch a bunch of games to research, and it began paying off.”
Celaya was able to make the El Diamante football team, but she was not welcomed. As a result her parents decided to make the move across town. For her sophomore year, Celaya was in a Golden West football uniform. Thankfully, things went a lot smoother while playing with her new squad.
“They never disrespect me and they don’t make exceptions because I’m a girl. They talk to me like I’m a teammate and I appreciate that.”
Her dad was supportive of her football dreams since he was a former player and had been wanting her to play for a while. Her mom was on a completely different page.
“She was against it and said the only way I could play was as a kicker…my first position was left tackle,” Celaya said.
During her sophomore and junior seasons, Celaya played on junior varsity as a running back and linebacker. This year she made the jump to varsity solely as a running back. According to her offensive linemen, she is just another one of the boys. They said it was a bit of an adjustment at first, but after a few practices they became friends.
The adjustment was real as the team didn’t want to hit Celaya during the first few practices of the season. Offensive coordinator Stan Kanawyer had to sit the team down and tell them “she wants to be a football player so you have to hit her like any other guy.” From that day on, there were no more problems. Celaya knows how to take a hit.
According to her teammates, she will get knocked down and roll a few times, but she gets right back up smiling.
“I don’t know why, but [being hit on the field] just makes me happy. It shows that they treat me like everyone else,” she said. “If they didn’t respect me then they wouldn’t hit me, they wouldn’t push me as hard as they do, or they wouldn’t tell me stuff trying to help me get better.”
Over the next few seasons, Celaya says her teammates and coaches became the family she never expected to have. Golden West head coach Paul Preheim speaks highly of Celaya’s work ethic both on and off the field.
“Her work in the weight room is second to none, she has busted her butt since she’s been here,” he said. “She is very smart, does well in practice and is always ready to jump on scout team. I wish every athlete had her heart.”
Her hard work led to her historic touchdown run in the second quarter of their game against El Capitan.
“We didn’t want people to think we were just throwing her in there to score, she earned her playing time” Preheim said.
The team had the ball first and goal on the 8-yard line. “Angel!” Kanawyer yelled.
“I was so nervous,” Celaya said. “Coach Kanawyer told me it was going to happen so just be prepared.”
She ran into the huddle and the offensive linemen knew what time it was. They had been practicing the play all week and had a secret prize incentive if they were able to score.
“You better not fumble, we’re going to give it everything we got,” they said to her.
She ran it three straight times and inched closer each time. Every time she came back to the huddle, her linemen gave her a different tip to help get her into the end zone.
It was fourth and goal from the 1-yard line. Golden West decided to go for it and ran the same exact play. Celaya took the handoff, ran right, and nearly tripped over her lineman as she dove into the end zone.
“I was overcome with complete euphoria. I ran off the field, jumped super high, and everyone embraced me. It felt like home,” she said.