The pass wasn’t perfect, but it was historic. In the middle of the first half of a high school football game, a quarterback heaved a 16-yard touchdown. It’s the kind of play that happens on Friday and Saturday nights all across the United States. But this play was different, because the passer was unlike any who had come before her.
Alexandria Buchanan had grown up going to the park in Honolulu with her father, Isaac, a former football player. At first, she would just chase him around, trying to steal the ball. But in middle school, she asked him to teach her how to throw. Alexandria was a quick study. “She had a cannon,” Isaac says.
Alexandria, though, wanted more than passing with pops at the park. And in the last three years, she’s backed up her ambitions with her play, becoming Hawaii’s first female starting varsity quarterback and one of the first in the history of high school football. Her TD passes have earned her viral fame and shoutouts from childhood heroes like Tennessee Titans QB and Honolulu native Marcus Mariota...and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
Watch Alexandria’s full story—and stay tuned for surprises from Drew Brees and more:
In seventh grade, Buchanan started playing flag football at the local Boys & Girls Club. In Hawaii, there’s a relatively robust history of girls playing peewee and high school football. Buchanan had seen other girls playing wide receiver and running back, but she was determined to be the QB. And when she got her wish—and excelled at her position—she decided to progress like any talented player would. As a ninth grader, she tried out for the junior varsity football team at McKinley High School.
“My first game, I went in for a couple plays, and I got hit,” says Buchanan, 17, now a junior. “And I got up, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not too bad. I can handle this.’”
By the end of the year, she was the team’s starter. And then, before the third game of her sophomore season, she got called up to varsity to make history. On August 19, 2017, she became the first girl to start a varsity high school football game in Hawaii. She ended the night not only with that historic touchdown pass, but also with 135 yards passing and McKinley’s closest chance at a win in years.
“I never saw it as a big deal,” Buchanan says. “I see so many quarterbacks on this island doing that over and over and over and over, and I just feel bad. They’re putting in the work. My boys are putting in the work on my team, and they are not getting all of this attention as well.”
The McKinley Tigers hadn’t won a football game in about four years when they turned to Buchanan as their starter. Three weeks later, they broke through with a 22-0 win. For Buchanan, a consummate team player, the win—not the viral moments or national media attention that came before it—remains her favorite memory from that season.
In her junior season, Buchanan struggled with the pressure—and with interceptions. Still, McKinley coach Pat Silva kept her in. “For me, [gender] really doesn’t matter,” Silva says. “I think if you have a passion to want to do something, then good for you. More so if you’re a female playing a male-dominant sport, right?”
The Tigers won three games under Buchanan this year, but her campaign ended early when she broke her collarbone on a sack in late September. “I felt bad because I felt like I let them down,” Buchanan says. “They were counting on me. I’m the starting quarterback. I should be there. I’m the one getting all these reps and working on these plays just so I can help them do their jobs. In that moment especially, I felt like I let them down. And it was hard for me. I let my boys down.”
Bleacher Report cameras were there for the injury and—as part of B/REAL, a new miniseries connecting real-life heroes with superstar athletes—for a surprise Buchanan got at school the next day. It was a FaceTime call from Brees. The future Hall of Famer told Buchanan that she’d bounce back better than ever. And Buchanan agrees. She began this journey in a park with her father, and she intends to end it under the bright lights her senior year.
“I’m definitely coming back next season,” she says. “I don’t how my parents feel about it yet, but I will definitely be back. Hopefully stronger than ever. To show everybody what a girl can do.”
David Gardner is a staff writer for B/R Mag.