Although life has taken Marcy “Marz” Hernandez away from her beloved hometown of Estancia, she will be proudly repping it in the Women’s Football Alliance’s DIII national championship game July 21.
“All of my family is in Estancia. I’m going to be a Bear for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ve got Bears strength no matter what I field I play on.”
It just so happens that the next field she plays on will be at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, as her team, the Las Cruces-based New Mexico Banitas, will face the Palm Beach Coyotes at 1 p.m. and will be streamed at womensportsnetwork.com.
Hernandez, 23, has a long history with football, dating back to her days at Estancia Middle School.
“I was looking for a sport to play and the only options were football, cross country and volleyball,” Hernandez recalled. “There was no way I was going to run cross country and my dad wasn’t really a big fan of volleyball and I wanted to please my dad, as every child should, so I said, okay, football it is.”
Her teammates and coach Robert Chavez, accepted her as just another player, which is what she wanted.
“My team was really welcoming,” Hernandez said. “A lot of them can’t believe that I’m still playing. They were all super on board for me playing.”
But while she strapped on the pads to please her dad, it was her late mom, Sandra Leyba, that kept her going.
“It’s kind of an emotional story. Very emotional,” Hernandez said, her voice cracking. “Football is always something I’ve always loved. Something my mom and I shared. She really supported me when nobody else believed in me. Nobody believed in me but her.”
It was that love and support, Hernandez said, that kept her going.
And it was football that helped her overcome the grief when her mom died.
“My aunt, Erica Gomez, sent me the link that they were having tryouts for a team in Albuquerque,” Hernandez recalled. “I lost my mom in November 2019 and shortly after my mom passed away, they were hosting the tryouts and my aunt, she knew it was something I enjoy doing. She said, ‘Try out and get your mind off of everything.’ That was the way I dealt with my grief.”
Although her Albuquerque team folded, she was able to connect with the first-year Banitas, impressing coach Brian Bartlett right away, despite her relatively small stature of 5-feet, 5-inches, 155 pounds.
“She’s very aggressive, a hard hitter,” he said. “On our stunting defense, she needs to get into the backfield and get to the ball. She’s not afraid to hit, so that helps.”
And now Hernandez is playing for a national championship on a first-year team as the starting outside linebacker and edge defensive end.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it still. It finally hit me this morning,” she said. “It’s something me and my teammates -- four other teammates have been playing together for a couple of years now and we’ve been trying for three years now to get to this goal. It’s unbelievable, honestly. It feels like dream.”
It is a dream that started as a youngster in Estancia and was further fueled by a brief move to Chandler, Arizona, where she played for one of Hamilton High School, one of top prep programs in the southwest.
“When I was there, we had a 56-game winning streak,” Hernandez said. “Our coaches were NFL trained or they were ex-NFL players, which was incredible. That was a super incredible learning experience.”
An injury briefly curtailed her football career, but she returned to Estancia for her sophomore and junior seasons, before graduating from a charter school in Albuquerque.
She now works as a manager for a dispensary in Albuquerque, but her heart is on the gridiron.
“You can take the person away from the sport, but you can’t take the love for the sport away from the person,” she said. “It’s not just a male sport. We’re women and we can do it too. At our level, but we can do it, too. When we step on the field, we’re all there for one reason. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Off the field, Hernandez describes herself as a dog mom who like to hang out with her friends.
“I love to read and painting is pretty awesome,” she said. “I’m very chill. You wouldn’t even think that this girl is kind of tough. I’m very chill, laid back.”
That is, until the ball is snapped.
“But FB is like an escape,” she said. “Four quarters, straight animalistic. It’s amazing. I just want play it as long as my body allows me to. And someday, I’m not able to play, hopefully I can coach women’s football.”
The Banitas are still a relatively low-budget operation, with players paying their own expenses.
The team tries to raise money through fundraising efforts like bake sales, car washes, enchilada dinners and even a gofundme effort: gofund.me/ef364cb2.
The team doesn’t even have a true home field as plans to play at the Las Cruces Field of Dreams did not materialize because it was being resurfaced. So instead, the team played 90 miles away at Cloudcroft High School in front of several hundred fans.
“The ladies that we played with this season, even though it’s our first season together, we work so perfect together,” Hernandez said. “Everything just works. Everything just falls into place. We’re so united. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful feeling.”
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July 21, 1 p.m. MDT
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