ST. CHARLES – St. Charles North senior Kat Stutesman hopes to hear by Christmas whether her ambitions of attending college at a military academy will come to fruition.
Stutesman figures her two years playing varsity football with the North Stars qualify as helpful preparation.
"Being on a football team and being in basically an entire male environment, and going to a military academy like the Naval Academy or the Air Force Academy or West Point, it's the same exact deal," said Stutesman, who is interested in becoming a pilot. "And that's what I want to do when I'm older."
Stutesman, who set North's program mark for career extra points in last week's win against Larkin, could topple North's single-season PAT mark Saturday in North's regular season finale at South Elgin. Stutesman has converted 46 career point afters – breaking the old mark of 43 – and has connected on 32 this season, two behind the season record in North's 13-year history.
Until last week's game at Larkin, North coach Rob Pomazak said Stutesman had only missed one PAT on the season.
Pomazak said he had never coached a female football player until arriving at North before this season, but his first such experience has been a delight.
"She really is probably as focused of a person as we have on our team, and I'm not just saying that," Pomazak said. "I worked with her over the summer for some of her military training, and just the level of effort that she puts in and the direction that she has for her life is something that I wish more of our kids could learn from."
Stutesman said she's "always been a tomboy," competing in taekwondo, basketball and soccer – which she still plays – growing up. Former North football coach Mark Gould was Stutesman's driver's ed instructor, and when Stutesman heard about North being thin at kicker a couple years ago, she started mulling the nontraditional move.
She attended the team's camps leading up to junior year and found her niche at kicker, even if it took some of her teammates a while to warm up to the idea of a girl under the helmet.
Stutesman said her second year in the program has gone more smoothly, on and off the field.
"If anything, when I do wide receiver drills, the guys go really easy on me, which sometimes I'm kind of like 'C'mon, just go hard, go how you actually would, get some practice in with an extra person.' But last year it took about half the season to actually be accepted to the team," Stutesman said.
"First day of summer camp, I remember one kid going up and saying 'Oh, it's really cool you're trying for football,' and he instantly accepted me, but I remember one of the safeties last year, I didn't feel like he accepted me until the last game. So it was kind of in between for the entire year, but this year, everyone's a friend."
Aside from separate pregame dressing, Stutesman is in the mix with the boys throughout the season. Naturally, some of the guys' language and mannerisms have become her own.
"If it's kind of like I've been having a bad day, then some of the language comes in," Stutesman said. "But usually I'm on the sidelines, and whatever they're saying, I usually say it just stays on the sidelines, and I'm just going to let it go over my head.
"But I grew up doing taekwondo, which is mostly a male sport, so it's basically the same language, same kind of social interactions."
North senior lineman Camden Cotter said Stutesman has "carried herself perfectly" and earned her place in the program's "family."
"I think at first she was on the team last year to be a part of something, but now she actually fits in and she has a job to do," Cotter said. "We expect her to get that job done, and she has, because she has the record and everything. As a guy who's on the offense after we score, I'm confident to be able to come off the field and know that we're going to get another point on the board."
Stutesman made a field goal last season against Streamwood and has attempted two this year but Dom Sidari kicks the team's medium-to-long range field goals.
When it's time for PATs, though, North turns to Stutesman, with the assistance of holder Blake Kastein.
Stutesman credited North's offense for being prolific enough to put the program PAT record in reach. She said she believes she's the first varsity female football player in North history, but noted there is a girl in school considering going out for the sophomore team next year as a linebacker.
She hopes her career inspires more football-loving girls to become involved at the youth level, and thinks the record she set last week lends credence that her participation was more than a novelty.
"In my college essays, I'm putting this also – you don't know the first woman pilot to have her license, but you know the first woman to fly across the Atlantic," Stutesman said. "That kind of deal. If I didn't break it, nobody would remember me in the future, but if I broke it, it's an 'Up on the wall' kind of thing."