Who are the Utah Falconz and how are they playing for the women’s football national title — again?
‘Pimple Popping Tuesday’ and other team-building activities have made semipro squad an annual contender for the title in its eighth year
Once a week during their regular season, members of the Utah Falconz — a semiprofessional women’s football team — conduct what they call “Pimple Popping Tuesday.”
It is a gripe session, basically, and players are welcome to air any grievances they have with coaches, teammates, etc., to relieve stress. Beyond that, no complaining is allowed.
“If you don’t have the gall to stand up and say what it is that is (irritating) you on Pimple Popping Tuesday, then you are not allowed to say it,” said the team’s crusty head coach, Rick Rasmussen. “After Tuesday, everything is out in the open and we are good to go.”
“We are a family unit. There is so much diversity on this team that when it comes time to getting on the field and fighting for each other, that bond is unbreakable.” — Tina Tela of the Utah Falconz
It is a process that works, said offensive guard Camille Brimhall, a 30-year-old parks maintenance supervisor for Bountiful City.
“We are a family,” said Brimhall, in her seventh season with the only women’s football team in the state. “We come out here, work hard and play for each other. This season has been a little bit different for us, because we have had a lot of rookies. But we just finally started clicking and playing as a family.”
The Falconz (5-3) reeled off two upset wins in the space of three days last weekend in the playoffs, and have advanced to the Title IX Cup National Championship game in Frisco, Texas, next weekend. Utah will face the undefeated Texas Elite Spartans on Sunday at The Star Stadium in Frisco, Texas, the 12,000-seat training facility of the Dallas Cowboys.
It will be the Falconz’s sixth national championship game appearance; established eight years ago, they won the national championship in 2016 in North Carolina and 2017 in Utah.
Rasmussen’s team is a decided underdog, but they remain unfazed after they entered the playoffs in San Diego last weekend as the No. 4 seed in the Pacific Division and knocked off the No. 1 seed San Diego Rebellion on Thursday and No. 2 seed Denver Bandits 20-14 in overtime on Saturday.
“Yeah, we have a shot,” said Rasmussen, who is retiring after the game, having been the only head coach the Falconz have known.
An Air Force Academy graduate who has been a fighter pilot and worked for the FBI, in addition to helping out at Brighton High for years, Rasmussen named the team after his beloved Air Force Falcons, and added the ‘Z’ ending “as a homage to where we live.”
They have a lightning bolt on their helmets, wear Air Force blue, and even run the triple option offense.
“We take local women and we work with them,” Rasmussen said. “The triple (option) kind of levels the playing field a little bit. We don’t have the best athletes, the biggest athletes.”
But they do have a sense of family and unity that can’t be beat, said fullback and defensive end Tina Tela, a 42-year-old mother of six who has been with the Falconz since the beginning.
“We are a family unit,” Tela said. “There is so much diversity on this team that when it comes time to getting on the field and fighting for each other, that bond is unbreakable.”
Defensive coordinator Cecil Chang, whom Rasmussen says is the best DC in women’s football, said you would be hard-pressed to find a more diverse group of players on any team at any level in the state in terms of lifestyle, race, socioeconomic status, religion and employment. Three of the team’s 10 coaches are women.
Of the 50 or so players, 90% have children. The youngest player is 20-year-old McKenna Morgan, who recently played in the Utah Girls Tackle Football League; the oldest player is 52-year-old Wendy St. James.
All but three players are from Utah, but the Falconz don’t bring in ringers like other teams, such as the Texas Elite Spartans, do. The three out-of-staters from Seattle and Las Vegas contacted Rasmussen after he coached them in an all-star game a few years ago and asked to join. They pay $1,000 a year to play, just like everyone else.
“We don’t sponsor them. We don’t give them any extra bennies,” said Rasmussen, younger brother of former legendary Bingham High girls basketball coach Rand Rasmussen, who died in 2019 in Salem, Oregon. “It would not be fair to charge Shauna Loftin $1,000 and Joe Bag of Donuts nothing. All three approached us.”
The Falconz play their home games at Cottonwood High, and draw up to 1,000 fans per game, Brimhall said.
“I just love sports,” she said. “I have been playing them ever since I was little. I love the competitive nature. I love the family that we have here, and it is just a blast to play.”
The players and coaches said a few years ago they sponsored a homeless woman to play. Now she has a car and a job and her own apartment.
“We attribute it to having friends that accepted her instantaneously,” Rasmussen said.
Their best player is probably Gina Magana, a left wing back who was the MVP of the league last year.
A member of the U.S. Women’s National Football Team as a safety, Sara Galica switched to quarterback this year after the Falconz’s old QB retired. The software saleswoman said playing “is an expensive venture” but worth every dime.
“It means the world to be able to play,” she said. “I have actually won two championships with the Falconz, but it has been about five years now since then. So to have this group of women come together, I am so excited for them to feel that energy.”
Tela, the mother of six, says she can’t give it up now because her kids look forward to her games so much, and because her youngest daughter just started playing with boys in the Ute Conference league and needs the role model.
“Us players are sisters and we have found our connection,” she said of their postseason run.
Tela says the majority of players are in their 30s, a “handful” are in their 40s or 20s and two are in their 50s.
So how good are these women?
Rasmussen said they would be an “average” high school football team at the 3A level in Utah. Chang, who coached on Alta’s staff for years, said the football “is definitely different” than what men play, “but their work ethic is incredible and they work very, very well together.”
Since they defeated Denver on June 11, revenge after losing twice in the regular season to the Bandits by a total of three points, the Falconz have been fundraising to come up with the $25,000 or so needed to travel to Dallas.
To contribute to their effort, send funds via Venmo to @UTFalconz (scroll down to find the pay without confirming button). Or, a GoFundMe page has been set up with a goal of raising $20,000 for the trip.