FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Lauren Silberman lined up for a kick at NFL history, took a deep breath and booted the football.
It barely went anywhere, traveling 19 yards, and she grabbed at her right leg.
Still, it was good enough to make her the first woman to try out at a regional combine, even if her day lasted all of two kicks.
With the 36 other kickers — all male — a handful of scouts and more than two dozen media watching in complete silence at the New York Jets’ practice facility, Silberman struggled for about 20 seconds to place the football on the tee before measuring her steps and then trying that second kick.
This one went only about 13 yards.
She then asked to see a trainer and left the practice field after injuring her quadriceps, and appeared to be slightly favoring her right leg.
“They certainly didn’t go as far as they were in practices,” Silberman said, “but I tried to work through the pain.”
The 28-year-old Silberman said she hurt her quadriceps while preparing for the tryout earlier in the week, and attributed her struggles to that.
“I tried staying off it and waited for today,” she said. “I didn’t even take kicks in warm-ups, and, it’s pretty hard to know that you’ll be in pain, and I wanted to work through it and I certainly tried to, but I just couldn’t do it today.”
Silberman, a former club soccer player at Wisconsin and ex-graduate student at MIT, appeared frustrated she couldn’t complete her tryout.
“I’ve always been an athlete, and I’ve always been a gamer,” she said while fighting back tears. “When I had the opportunity to be in the NFL, one of the world’s most competitive leagues, I absolutely had to take the chance.”
While some fans on Twitter have praised her for breaking through in a male-dominated sport, others wondered if this was just a mere publicity stunt. Regardless, the NFL got plenty of publicity on a Sunday in March for one of its regional combines — something that normally is ignored by most media.
“I’m just really happy I had this amazing experience,” Silberman said. “I might be the first woman trying out for the NFL, but I certainly hope I’m not the last.”
While she never kicked a football in a competitive game, the NFL said Silberman qualified for the regional combine because of her athletic background.
“Our job is to evaluate talent and not leave any stone unturned,” said Stephen Austin, the NFL’s director of regional combines. “We want young, athletic people who have played a sport, typically in college or military or small schools.”
The regional combines debuted in 2011, and include players who weren’t among the 333 invited to the main combine in Indianapolis. The NFL is holding these sessions in 10 cities this offseason, with the most impressive players advancing to a super-regional in April in Dallas.
Silberman paid a registration fee — about $275 — and just needed to show up Sunday and take her best shot at impressing scouts.
“Until they get here, we don’t have any idea of what they’re really going to turn out to do and how they’re going to perform,” Austin said.
When asked if he could evaluate Silberman’s performance, Austin said: “That evaluation is completely incomplete.”
Silberman waited outside the facility around noon with all the other kickers, whose names were read off alphabetically as they entered the indoor practice field. Each participant was then given time to warm up before being broken into groups to attempt three kickoffs and then a set of five field goals, the first starting from 35 yards all the way up to 55 yards.
The 5-foot-6 Silberman, with her long brown hair pulled into a ponytail, jogged up and down the sideline during warm-ups, trying to get loose as photographers and camera crews from the likes of E! Entertainment network followed her every move.
By the time her group was called, nearly 3 hours after she arrived, Silberman — wearing a black T-shirt with her player tag No. 68 on the back and white socks pulled up to her knees — stretched her legs, did some push-ups and a few sit-ups. She then chatted a bit with Sonny Powell, another former soccer player from Charlotte, as she waited for her turn to kick.
“In talking to some of the other guys out here, I don’t think her being a girl had anything to do with it,” Powell said. “We’re all playing for a job here and everybody’s nerves were going crazy.”
Silberman’s goal was to try a 60-yard field goal. That thought was squashed just minutes into her tryout.
“You know, the distance wasn’t there, but hopefully the scouts will notice my technique,” she said. “It’s not always length.”
Silberman, who spoke for just 3 minutes after the tryout, insisted she can “do more” and “it’s too bad that this happened.” She called the scene “surreal,” adding that she “did the right thing for my body” by not continuing and anticipates trying to kick again in the future — possibly at another regional combine next year.
Silberman left the complex soon after that.
“I would certainly be very, very excited and happy if I had the opportunity to try again,” she said, “but it’s not up to me. It’s up to the scouts.”