Hnida kicked two extra points for New Mexico

Updated: February 20, 2004, 8:56 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Katie Hnida was looking for a fresh start when she left the "horrors" of the Colorado football team.

She found it with the New Mexico Lobos, who treated the kicker with the respect all players expect from each other.

"I have been able to play a game I love so much and also be part of a team that is like a family," Hnida said.

Her experience with the Buffaloes was far different.

Hnida (pronounced NYE-da) says she was raped by a teammate in 2000 and harassed by others. Her assault allegation is one of seven linked to the Colorado football program.

Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett was suspended indefinitely this week for criticizing Hnida's on-field performance after she told Sports Illustrated she was raped. Barnett said Hnida was "not only a girl" but a "terrible" player.

Hnida, a Littleton, Colo., native who played only the 1999 season in Colorado, joined New Mexico in 2002 as a walk-on. As a Lobo last season, she became the first female player to score in a Division I game, kicking two extra points.

New Mexico backup quarterback Tali Ena said Thursday that Hnida fit in with the Lobos and "did everything we did" in getting ready for games. The only difference was that she used a separate locker room to change.

Hnida proved to be mentally tough and a hard worker in the training room, Ena said.

"She brings that touch to the football atmosphere and it's kind of a nice change," Ena said. "She's a great addition to have on our team."

New Mexico coach Rocky Long refused to talk about Hnida and her allegations about the Colorado football team. But he, too, has consistently been supportive.

"She has to dress different places, she has to join the team after everyone else is dressed," Long said during the 2002 season. "She has handled it better than I could have imagined."

Hnida said in a statement earlier this week that her experiences at New Mexico helped her heal from "the horrors I've endured over the past few years."

She had played a mostly low-key role on the Lobos until December 2002, when she got her chance to make history as the first woman to compete in a major college game. Her extra point against UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl, however, failed: The kick was blocked.

At the time, Long said Hnida had earned the chance.

"Katie is a valuable member of our team," Long said. "I think it's a very unusual situation, and she's put in a position a lot of times that's very uncomfortable."

When Hnida got her second opportunity, in September in New Mexico's season-opening 72-8 blowout of Texas State-San Marcos, she came through. With her long blond hair hanging from the back of her helmet, Hnida kicked a pair of extra points.

Later, Hnida emerged from the New Mexico locker room and knelt on one knee in the end zone.

"I was just kind of taking it all in," Hnida said. "It's been a long time that I've been waiting for this."

She didn't get into another game the rest of the season. In December, when the Lobos again played in the Las Vegas Bowl, Hnida said she was grateful for the chance she got at New Mexico.

"What this program has done for me is indescribable," Hnida said. "It takes a very special program and a very special group of people to be able to handle a situation like mine."

Hnida attended Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College in 2001 before enrolling at New Mexico.

Last week she asked the NCAA to grant her another year of eligibility. Hnida argued she lost a year while dealing with the mental trauma and other health issues that resulted from her time at Colorado.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press