Pilot Point kicker Tanna Tuinei has deserved all the attention she received in being the first female in Bearcats history to put on a helmet and shoulder pads. She was also crowned homecoming queen. It was the perfect story, almost too good to be true.
However, when one person attracts so much attention, it can be at the expense of another, like the Bearcats’ starting kicker, senior Jaime Tavera.
All offseason, Tavera heard people rave about Tuinei. Going into the season, special teams coach Greg Lane said it was an open competition; meaning Tavera’s starting job was in jeopardy.
“I was nervous,” Tavera said. “I felt like she was going to take my spot.”
But the competition with Tuinei made Tavera a better kicker.
“Last year, I would hardly make (kickoffs) to the end zone, but this year I improved in touchbacks on kickoff. I made a touchback in the homecoming game out of nowhere,” Tavera said.
During the course of a football season, a player will have an opportunity to either come up big or break under pressure.
Tavera’s opportunity — opportunities, actually — came late in the fourth quarter at Whitesboro. Tavera was called on to make a 34-yard field goal with the Bearcats down 9-0 and then, with the game on the line, kick an extra point with the score tied 9-9.
He came up big, making both the field goal and the extra point to put Pilot Point in a tie for first place in district.
Tavera said he felt left in the dark with all the focus on Tuniei and that to step up the way he did was vindicating.
“I had to show people and prove to them I could get the job done,” Tavera said. “It felt really good.”
One of the first people to congratulate him as he got to the sideline following those clutch kicks Friday night was Tuinei.
“We actually have this handshake that we do after every kickoff, PAT and field goal,” Tavera said.
Tavera and Tuinei are actually good friends. When Tavera heard that Tuinei was sidelined with a quad injury, he tweeted that he hoped she had a speedy recovery.
They also share an affinity for soccer. They both play defender and are constantly talking about how to apply their soccer skills to football.
Tavera, who also runs cross-country, is thankful for the opportunity to play sports and wants to continue to help his team win.
“I want to thank coach Lane for some of the yelling he’s done,” Tavera said with a laugh. “I really hope I can do more to help us win. I want to go down in the history books.”
Joshua Okeke covers sports for The Post-Signal.