When she tried out for the LSU football team in the spring, Mo Isom dominated headlines near and far.
She had completed her career as an LSU soccer player the previous fall. Now, she was trying to go from homecoming queen to walk-on place-kicker in the space of four months.
Even though she missed the cut, Isom said her plan remained unchanged.
She always saw the spring tryout as another step in the process. She never intended to pack up her dreams if her number wasn’t called.
“I was actually hoping it wouldn’t have been as big a story in the spring,” Isom said, “because I recognized that the story wasn’t done if I didn’t make it yet. You’re trying to master a sport you’ve never played before. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of feedback and a lot of constructive criticism.”
Isom will get her final shot at earning a spot on the team when LSU holds fall tryouts Tuesday and Wednesday.
This audition marks the end of a journey Isom kicked off in January 2011, when she began cross-training as a place-kicker during soccer’s offseason, her sights set on a goal she hoped to achieve 21 months later in Tiger Stadium.
The NCAA allows Division I student-athletes a five-year window to compete in athletics, with four seasons of eligibility in a particular sport.
Although her soccer career ended in 2011 after her fourth season on the team, Isom knew she still had a fifth year of eligibility if she chose to play a different sport. She said she turned her attention to football because she saw it as the ultimate challenge.
“I knew I had a window from last spring and through this fall to try to make the team and to play a fifth year,” Isom said. “I began training all the way back in January 2011 with the absolute intention of trying as hard as I could until my eligibility was exhausted.”
At the end of her spring tryout, LSU coach Les Miles said he was concerned about Isom having to make tackles on kickoffs and encouraged her to work strictly on field goals and extra points before returning in the fall. So Isom narrowed her focus.
But the lifelong soccer player still had some adjustments to make as she transitioned away from the sport she knew best.
One of her biggest challenges was learning to kick the ball with a higher trajectory.
On kickoffs as a goalkeeper, Isom never had to worry about kicking the ball over a line of defenders. On field goals and extra points, she would have to kick the ball not only accurately and with power, but also high enough that the try wasn’t blocked.
To help her in her training, Isom said she set up a portable passing target and kicked field goals over it.
She spent much of her time otherwise working out alongside other kickers and punters during LSU’s summer strength and condition program.
“I’m really, really excited for fall tryouts because I know I’m now a better kicker,” Isom said. “I feel like I’m much improved and that I can stand toe-to-toe with some of the guys.”
But the depth chart hasn’t changed since the spring.
Senior kicker Drew Alleman returns after making 16 of 18 field goals and 62 of 63 extra points last year. He scored every point in a 9-6 victory at Alabama.
The Tigers can also call on sophomore James Hairston, a scholarship recruit from Dallas who spent 2011 as a kickoff specialist.
Isom said she doesn’t expect to be given a roster spot simply because she’s a good story. She hopes she can provide the Tigers something they need.
“If there’s any way I can benefit coach Miles and the team as a whole, that’s what I’m working to do,” she said. “This was never to push an agenda or achieve the impossible. It was to see if I can contribute. If what I bring to the table is nothing that’s needed, or nothing that sets me apart from other skills we already have, and that’s the reason I don’t make the team, that’s OK with me.”
With a degree from LSU in broadcast journalism, Isom said she will withdraw from school and head off to begin her professional career if she misses the cut again this week.
But she hopes to be in school one more semester.
That would mean she achieved her dream.
“Having the opportunity to run out suited up in Tiger Stadium, there’s not many people that ever get to experience that in their life,” Isom said. “Male or female. Certainly not female.”