Annika Blom is a blessed with a strong foot.
So strong, in fact, that it has kicked open doors and knocked down barriers during a stellar prep career at Modesto High.
Blom recently signed a national letter of intent to attend Menlo College in Atherton, where she'll fulfill a dream to play collegiate soccer. She's also part of a growing movement on the football field, where she handled kicking duties for the Panthers the last two seasons.
More than 2,000 girls donned pads and a helmet in 2016-17, according to statistics produced by the National Federation of State High School Associations. At a time when football has been under attack because of concussions and other safety concerns, the game's popularity has spiked among females.
The NFHS reports that the number of schools with girls playing football in 2016-17 climbed to 665, and that a total of 2,017 girls competed during that same academic year, a 17.06 percent increase from totals reported in 2013-14.
More and more, those numbers have been brought to life in the Stanislaus District.
In two season with the Panthers, Blom connected on 77 of 88 point-after kicks, a conversion rate of 90 percent. She was also 2 for 2 on field goals, both coming in her senior season. She totaled 83 points for a Division I program that qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason both years.
Blom isn't the Stanislaus District's only female football player.
In 2014, Sierra High's Marissa Laquaglia was second on the team in scoring with 64 points, all extra points. The Timberwolves split the Valley Oak League crown with Oakdale. Like Blom, Laquaglia also played varsity soccer.
In 2015, former Modesto High football coach Donnie Wallace carried Kyndra Gonzalez on his roster. Gonzalez played sparingly at wide receiver as the Panthers captured a share of the Modesto Metro Conference title. Gonzalez had one catch for eight yards.
One season later, the Stanislaus District featured at least two girls in prominent roles for title-contending teams. Blom inherited the kicking duties at Modesto from all-MMC kicker and All-District Boys Soccer Player of the Year Serafin Alberto, while Modesto Christian's Rachel Smith filled the kicking void created when Paul Puaauli tore his ACL before the start of the season.
Smith was 27 of 33 on extra points and averaged 31.3 yards per kickoff for the Crusaders, who advanced to the Division V playoffs.
For her performance on the field and in the classroom, Smith was later named a Central Valley Automotive Player with Drive scholarship award winner, joining VOL MVP and Central Catholic High running back Jared Rice and Gregori High linebacker Dominic Barandica.
This season, female football players across the country made state history, according to MaxPreps.
In Texas, K-Lani Nava kicked nine extra points for Strawn High in a Texas state championship game, becoming the first female player to score points in a state final.
Holly Neher of Hollywood Hills became the first female in Florida state history to throw a touchdown pass in a game, while Becca Longo of Basha High in Arizona became the first female to earn a Division II or higher scholarship. Longo will play football at Adams State.
Bethany College in Kansas extended East Los Angeles College safety Antoinette Harris a scholarship, making her for the first non-kicker to earn a football scholarship.