Sophomore named first female starter for her high school’s football team

15-year-old Malini Dutta is the first female to start for the high school’s football team. (SOURCE: WWBT)
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 4:29 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT/Gray News) - A high school sophomore in Virginia is breaking barriers on the gridiron as she becomes the first female to start for the high school’s football team.

A student at Deep Run High School in Henrico, 15-year-old Malini Dutta previously played soccer but switched to football because she was looking for a change.

“I wasn’t doing any sports,” Dutta said. “I didn’t have anything to do, so I thought, ‘Why not join the football team?”

Dutta said she knew many of the players from her classes, so it wasn’t a tough transition.

Head coach Joe Mullinax said he talked with the players about bringing a female into a male-dominated sport. He said Dutta fit in seamlessly.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, there’s Malini, the girl on the football team,’” Mullinax said. “No, she’s on the football team, and there’s a difference. She’s earned her way just like any other player would earn their way. Any good things that happen to her this coming year and beyond it’s not ‘cause we’re trying to get attention. It’s ‘cause she’s earned it.”

While Dutta is not the first girl Mullinax has coached, he said she stands out from the rest.

“When I first met Malini, she said she wanted to be a guard,” Mullinax said. “She wanted to be an offensive lineman, and she wanted to go play in the trenches of a football game which is one of the most violent and aggressive areas that there are.”

Dutta is also making a difference off the field. She started a sports injury prevention program called Par 4 Play, where she works with professionals on routines to keep players safe.

“Obviously, football has a lot of injuries during the season,” Dutta said. “There’s a lot of things that go on in between it. I wanted to figure it out and make a whole program for it.”

Mullinax said he’s proud of the player Dutta has become and the person she’s growing into. He said she is even becoming an inspiration to his own daughters.

“The first person [my daughters] run up to is Malini,” Mullinax said. “They just think it’s so cool that there is a girl on the football team. They might not wind up being football players, but I would put her up there with a lot of other examples of showing that regardless of what you are, who you are, or what society says you are, you can be whatever you want to be if you’re willing to work at it. "

Dutta will be in the starting lineup when the Deep Run Wildcats take on the Mechanicsville Mustangs for the season’s first game.