By Martin Henderson
A Rancho Santa Margarita girl on Saturday became a national champion in the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition.
Samantha Woods, 9, a fourth-grader at Robinson Elementary, defeated two challengers to win the Girls 8-9 division of the Punt, Pass and Kick National Finals.
The only finalist from California, she won while representing the San Diego Chargers, who are in Denver this weekend to play a second round game of the AFC playoffs. Participants will put on a pre-game exhibition before the game Sunday, and the winners will be recognized in an award ceremony after the third quarter.
The event, in its 52nd year, has included such NFL stars as Dan Marino and Troy Aikman.
Sammi, as she is known to family and friends—and Sam Bam to teammates on her softball, soccer and basketball teams—probably won't have a career in the NFL. Her parents, Lee Anne and Terry Woods, won't let her play tackle football because she's a bit small for her age. She's 4-feet-6 and 63 pounds.
But that doesn't mean she can't pack a wallop in her arms and legs.
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At Valor Christian High on Saturday in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, Sammi and her competitors got the best of two passes, two punts and two kicks that were measured in feet; the distance offline was subtracted, leaving a total score.
Sammi's first-place total was 232 feet 8 inches and she won by nearly 30 feet.
"She's a very happy girl right now," said her mom, Lee Anne, after the awards luncheon.
Sammi punted 74-6, passed 69-8, and kicked 88-6 for her total score, which actually exceeded the fourth-place score in the Boys' 8-9 competition. She certainly rose to the occasion: Her scores across the board were better than the ones she posted in the sectionals.
In second place was Tennessee Titans representative Cadashia Collins of Chattanooga, Tenn., whose total was 203-6. Cadashia's pass of 70-4 was the only mark that exceeded Sammi's.
Taking third place was Falcons representative Isabella Winston of Warner Robins, Ga., who totaled 190-1.
Sammi was the only participant in this year's finals from California, but she wasn't the only person representing the Chargers who won. Jason Alani of Captain Cook, Ha., won the Boys 10-11 with a score of 383-10, which exceeded second place by almost 74 feet; his pass was 155-7—more than 51 yards after the deduction.
Forty athletes were invited to compete representing five age groups ranging from 6-15.