It's been a long-awaited return to high school football across New England, and when La Salle Academy's junior varsity team took the field on March 27, it marked a joyous moment, a slice of normalcy falling back into place, but that wasn't all. School history was made in the junior varsity team's 30-0 victory over Cranston High School West as a familiar name and number to Patriots fans made its football debut.
No. 63, Teresa Andruzzi.
Teresa, daughter of Patriots legend Joe Andruzzi, made her first appearance as the Rams' junior varsity team's kicker over the weekend, becoming the first girl to play and score points in La Salle's football program history.
Though Teresa, now a high school sophomore, was too young to remember her father's football career, the sport still surrounds her family, and the knack for competition is in her DNA.
"It was always been an interesting sport to me," Teresa said. "I really never thought of actually playing because it's always been put out there it's a boys' sports. Girls can't play."
Seeing girls and women like Sarah Fuller of Vanderbilt and Maddie Alves, a Cranston West kicker who made Sportscenter's Top 10 in the fall, made Teresa realize playing football was not only possible but something she really wanted to do.
Progress has been made in recent years as far as women flourishing on the football field, but to be the first in anything takes courage -- especially as a high school student. Joe said that his daughter has always been a "free spirit," so it's no surprise Teresa would take this challenge head on.
"Her growing up, she was always the feisty player, and she always had a smile on her face and she'll be like, running somebody over in soccer with a big smile on our face," Joe said.
That soccer background laid the foundation for her skills as a kicker, and despite years playing soccer, football drew her in even more.
"I never thought I would play, so to actually play is a pretty big accomplishment for me. I've always played soccer. That was my main sport," Teresa said. "When I got into football I was like, this is like a lot more interesting than soccer even though a kicker is not a, quotation marks, important position, but at the same time it is. You need the kicker for that last point and for the kickoff. It's a new chapter for me."
In her first game, she made two of three points after and even made a tackle on her first kickoff. As she made her debut, her mom, dad and brother, C.J., were in the stands cheering her on.
"My wife and I both missed [the tackle] because we were screaming and yelling. We didn't videotape that part so hopefully somebody's got it," Joe said. "The coach was joking and said they put her name on the defensive stat sheets for a tackle. [We were] just being there and cheering her on and you know getting all the accolades afterwards when she walked off the field with her hair in ponytails. Everybody said what a great job. She did a great job. She had a big smile on her face."
Even from the stands, Teresa could feel and hear their support.
"At one point, I heard my little brother yell my name, and I started laughing," she said. "It was right before I'm about to kick the ball. I just started laughing because it's normal for him to see me wanting to do something that is unnormal to the world."
The support wasn't just in the stands either; it was on the sideline. Teresa's teammates and coaches were quick to share in her excitement both personally and what it meant for the program.
"They were happy. They were all like so excited for me because they knew it's like it's a big thing because they all know I'm the first girl," Teresa said. "More so the coaches, they said I knew you could do it. I was so happy, and then when I made the tackle they were all so proud of me."
Teresa said she gets that kind of courage to go against the grain from her mother, Jen, and she hopes that by following her dream and playing football, she will be yet another person for kids to point to and find strength from.
"It's not just to the girls. It's also to boys because there are probably boys out there who do want to play sports, but they're afraid to like dance and cheer," Teresa said. "Girls want football and other sports. Don't listen to everyone else in the world. They're all little comments, don't mind. It's what you want to do with your life."
While Joe is relieved that "she's not an O-lineman," there are similarities on their separate roads to football, and it's all about proving people wrong.
"I'm very proud of her to go out there and not care what other people think and just to do what she feels and be comfortable with herself. We shouldn't shy away from anything in life if somebody else is down on you. No, you shouldn't do that or anything like that," Joe said. "You go for it. You want it; you go for it. I was told many times that I would never make it in the NFL by scouts and by actual coaches in the NFL. It gave me nothing but pride to prove people wrong. Myself, I made the league and played 10 years. For her, she went out, kicking the ball and made the team."
With that, it makes it even more special that not only do Joe and Teresa now share a sport, they share a number.
"I just wanted to represent his number too," Teresa said. "This is my dad's number, and he is one of the reasons I'm playing today."
Teresa kept it as a surprise, but as soon as the jersey was in her hands, she couldn't keep it from Joe any longer.
"First day they got their jerseys, she came home giggling. She couldn't even hold it in anymore. She told me what number she got," Joe said. "She was happy to get that. My wife and I, we posted [about it] and I wrote, 'There's a new 63.'"
Though La Salle's next game has been postponed due to Covid precautions after an opposing player tested positive, the Rams and Teresa have a long season ahead of them. In her first season playing football, Teresa's goal is to keep improving and growing as a kicker and to be an encouraging teammate.
It's safe to say this is just the beginning for Teresa.
"I feel proud. It makes me want to push harder to prove that it's not just for boys to play football," she said.