By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Carolina fans already knew that Alyssa Ustby was versatile from watching her score, pass, rebound, distribute and defend on the basketball court with dogged determination.
But they didn’t know just how versatile until she kicked it up a few notches at halftime of UNC’s #TyleeStrong Spring Football Game on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. The level of awe from Tar Heels fans suddenly grew even higher.
Ustby easily made a 35-yard field-goal attempt at halftime, when UNC was honoring the women’s basketball team for its Sweet 16 run. If Coach Mack Brown ever asked her to kick in a game, Ustby said that she’d absolutely do it.
“When I made that field goal and had that punt, I feel like I shocked a lot of people because they weren’t expecting much,” said Ustby, who added that having her coaches and teammates there made it 10 times more enjoyable. “It made it so much more fun to have them there. To look up at them and they’re all jumping up and down. And I’m like, ‘Yup, those are my teammates, super excited, really supportive.’ ”
While most of the stadium was surprised, Ustby — who averaged 12.9 points and 8.6 rebounds as UNC went 25–7 — was confident and not the least bit surprised that she made it.
That’s because she kicked a 45-yard field goal Wednesday night at the Koman Practice Complex (the indoor football facility). She added a 51-yard punt and a 32-yard throw to win the women’s side of the campus punt, pass and kick competition sponsored by UNC Athletics and the Rams Club.
The women’s winner and men’s winner, Tyler Britt, were supposed to face their respective runners-up or alternates, but none of them could compete Saturday. Both were declared winners, but since Ustby made a 35-yard attempt and the men’s winner missed his try, Ustby got an unofficial overall win.
She could have attempted a longer field goal but played it safe.
“I knew I could make it from there,” Ustby said of that attempt. “But since we were only given one attempt and I had no warmups before then and it was freezing cold and the football was a rock, I decided that I would just stick to what I was 100% certain that I could make. I knew as long as I made it, I’d be in good shape.”
NFL scouts, are you listening? She was certain that she could make it from 35 yards out.
Making a field-goal attempt in front of a modest spring-football crowd was nothing for Ustby. The Minnesota native won her local punt, pass and kick competition at age 12, then finished second competing during a Minnesota Vikings-Carolina Panthers game in a packed NFL stadium.
Given that experience, she was excited when she heard about UNC’s punt, pass and kick competition.
“I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t done this in like seven years, but I’d love to give it a shot,’ ” Ustby said, who didn’t know she had won until receiving an email message Thursday after they tallied the results.
While Britt got a prize for winning, Ustby did not because it would have been an NCAA violation.
Ustby, who beat around 50 other woman students to win that competition Wednesday, has been around football her whole life. Her dad has coached football and her three older brothers played football.
“I would always be at the football field,” Ustby said. “I’d be the ball girl. I would bring out the extra jerseys. I was kind of like my dad’s little helper when he was the coach. So, I’ve definitely grown up around football my entire life.”
She wanted to join them and play recreation football at age 10 but her father wouldn’t let her.
“He said it was too dangerous. He didn’t want me to get hurt. He said, ‘There’s no way I’m letting you play football. You can play any other sport,’ ” said Ustby, who took him up on that by playing soccer, softball and basketball.
The compromise was to let her compete in the punt, pass and kick competition.
“I think it was him doing something to combat me being a feisty little 10-year-old girl,” Ustby said. “It kind of made me feel like I was a part of football as a whole. That was really special for me and definitely a great way for my dad and I to bond at such a young age.”
He would be there with a tape measure to keep up with her progress as she practiced in the front yard.
“We just kind of watched my numbers grow on my punt, pass and kick,” Ustby said. “But also playing soccer has helped me a lot because I didn’t really know the great, best techniques to kick a football. But I just kind of go up there and kick it as hard as I can.”
Even though she’s a basketball player at Carolina, that hasn’t kept her from getting some football reps in with some of her friends on the football team.
And that brings us to more Ustby versatility. She can not only punt, pass and kick but also catch.
“I’ll run routes and we’ll play one v one, so a defensive back will be guarding me and I’m acting like the wide receiver,” Ustby said. “So, I just love doing anything sports-related. It’s just so fun to me.”
Outside of team sports, she can ride a RipStik (similar to a skateboard) while juggling three basketballs and making a layup.
“I think that’s a mini-talent that a lot of people are pretty blown away with, which is pretty cool,” said Ustby, who is also a very good piano player.
Carolina fans are just happy to have her as a key member of the women’s basketball team, which figures to be a national contender next season.
And, if Brown ever needs another kicker or a punter? She’s game. “I totally would.”
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications