Lake Mead Academy football coach Nate Oishi was looking for a kicker before the 2022 season.
He knew twin brothers Gavin and Christian Rhodes, who starred on the school’s middle school flag football team and were entering their freshman year on the varsity, had an older sister, Gracie, who was a standout soccer player.
With no high school varsity soccer at the small school in Henderson, Oishi talked to Gracie about joining the football team. At first, Gracie said, she thought he was joking.
“I never thought I would be on a football team kicking,” Gracie said. “I knew I could do something like that, but I never thought that would happen.”
Two years later, Gracie Rhodes, a senior, has established herself as Lake Mead’s kicker, playing alongside her sophomore brothers. The Eagles host the school’s first home playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday against White Pine in a Class 2A state quarterfinal.
“She goes to work every day and always with a great attitude, and that rubs off on the other kids,” Oishi said. “Regardless of how hard practice is, she always comes out consistent and with a good attitude. Her work ethic is consistent. She isn’t a vocal leader, but she leads in that way because she always gets the job done.”
Gracie leads the state in made extra points, hitting 51 of 52 for a 98.1 success rate, and was named the 2A All-Southern League first-team kicker. The Eagles have rolled to a 7-1 record for the best season in the program’s 11th year playing football.
Gracie has made both of her field goal attempts this season, as the Eagles’ drives often end with her kicking extra points. (Lake Mead has outscored opponents 391-71 this season.) Christian, a wide receiver, has six touchdown catches, and Gavin, a defensive back and long snapper, leads the team with five interceptions.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced,” Christian Rhodes said. “It’s so nice to hear her name on the speakers, hearing ‘Gracie Rhodes with the kick,’ and how she is one of the top kickers. And my brother, he’s doing so well, too, and getting interceptions, he’s a great defensive back, and just all of us kind of contribute in our own ways is something special for our family.”
‘As far as anybody’
Female kickers are common in Hawaii, where Oishi, a former UNLV offensive lineman, is from. His alma mater, ‘Iolani High School, has had female kickers for the past several seasons. He wanted to have a player on the team who specializes in kicking, which can be hard at a school with a grade 9-12 enrollment of just over 200 students.
After seeing Gracie, who stopped playing soccer at the club level after her freshman year, make kicks at tryouts, Oishi said he was impressed with her raw leg strength.
Gracie and her brothers were excited about the opportunity to play football together. As expected, there were some concerns from her parents, but those quickly subsided.
“We were a little apprehensive playing varsity football. She’s 5 foot, 5 inches,” Gracie’s father, Steve, said. “There was a little concern, but once she got up and started doing it, we understood the situation she was in and the camaraderie with all the teammates to take care of her.”
Gracie went through summer workouts with the team, going through regular conditioning and weightlifting sessions. Oishi brought in former high school teammate Jordan Genovia as an assistant last season to work with Gracie. She credited Genovia for teaching her “everything.”
“Once she started to trust her form, I think it really showed in the game she’s not nervous anymore,” Genovia said. “She’s pretty solid now. That’s pretty much all up to her, dealing with the mental side, because you can teach someone so much, but it comes down to if they’re able to perform. That just shows she’s confident in herself, and I’m pretty proud of her for that.”
Gracie said she had to learn a “completely different” technique for kicking a football compared to soccer. She said the two biggest things she had to learn were making sure she kept the same kicking motion every time and dealing with the mental aspect of kicking.
“Once I got the hang of actually kicking the ball, it was more difficult for me to break down mental walls I set for myself based on the distance which hash it was on, who was watching, because kicking is all mental,” Gracie Rhodes said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but (Genovia) helped me through it and helped me put it into perspective and not put too much pressure on myself.”
Lake Mead played Somerset-Losee in the season opener in 2022, and Gracie made all five of her PAT attempts in the Eagles’ 35-14 win. Two of those kicks came after touchdown catches from Christian. Gracie made 43 of 47 PATs last season while adding two field goals.
“Her boundaries, she can go as far as anybody,” Christian Rhodes said. “We push her to see how far we can go, and every time we think she’s done, she keeps going. It’s amazing. It’s crazy to see how hard she works and how far she can go.”
If there was one scare last season, it came when Lake Mead attempted a fake field goal against Awaken Christian. On the snap, Gracie got the ball and was tackled short of the goal line, but she bounced right back up and made sure her parents knew she was fine.
“She tried to make it around the corner and just got crushed down by two defenders,” Steve Rhodes said. “She popped up and put two thumbs up toward Mom that she was OK. To this day, she wants to do it again. I don’t know if Mom (Amy) knows that.”
Trusty long snapper
“Don’t mess up.” It’s what Gavin Rhodes thinks every time the Eagles line up for a field goal. He said he’s not thinking that for his sister, but for himself, in his first year as the team’s long snapper.
“Don’t mess up, because if I mess up then she doesn’t get to kick it in,” Gavin Rhodes said with a chuckle.
With her brother long-snapping, and Brendyn Downing holding, Gracie has become nearly automatic every time the Eagles lineup for a kick.
“The fact that he’s my brother makes me trust him more,” Gracie Rhodes said. “He is a really good long snapper in the first place. I know usually it’s gonna be a good snap. But I do like having my brother out there because it’s comforting.”
Gracie, 18, and Christian and Gavin, 16, played soccer — Gavin admitted Gracie would beat her brothers — and Steve put them on the same youth basketball team when they were younger. Steve said sharing this unique experience has brought them closer than ever before, and the siblings agree.
“It’s something that has bonded us all together, and it’s something that if we had not done it, we wouldn’t be as close,” Christian Rhodes said. “It’s great to see how close we are and we’re all best friends.”
“It’s definitely cool. It’s not something that everybody gets to do. It’s a privilege to have both my family members and teams. It helps us as a family just getting closer with each other and, you know, just wanting to protect each other and all that, but it’s a blessing.”
Gracie admitted she was nervous about joining a team with all guys, but said her teammates have all become like a “second family” with her actual brothers.
“They’ve become my best friends in so many ways and are also my heroes,” Gracie Rhodes said of her brothers. “I know they’re younger than me, but honestly, they teach me more things than I do than I teach them sometimes. They’re my partners for life. I know that I will always have two men that are by my side, and I just love them.”
While Gracie has become comfortable kicking, anytime she feels nervous when kicking, she reminds herself that scared feeling is a good thing.
“I’ve discovered in this experience that if something doesn’t scare you at least a little bit, then it’s not a dream that’s extremely valuable,” Gracie Rhodes said. “The fact that it scares me to go out there sometimes or get nervous means that I’m doing something good. I’m doing something that’s challenging me and helping me grow as a person.”