Building the Pathway: U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team Knengi Martin

By Natasha Malone | Posted 6/7/2023

USA Football emphasizes the importance of football for all and actively supports and participates in the creation of pathways for more people to participate in the sport. In the coming months, USA Football will highlight and share the experiences of exceptional members of the football community who have expanded the sport’s scope through their play.  

Throughout their more than 20 years of experience as a star football player, coach and member of the U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team, Knengi Martin has worked to grow the game of women’s football and has seen the sport become more popular.   

Martin’s playing days date back to 2003, when they were first introduced to the sport by playing on an 8-on-8 women’s intramural team in Santa Barbra. From that moment on, Martin was destined to have a career in the sport.   

“I have always been drawn to football,” Martin said. “When I was in tenth or eleventh grade, my mom saw something on TV that was talking about women playing football. From that point on, I knew I was going to play football. I knew I was going to make it a part of my life. I didn’t know how, but I knew I was going to make it happen.”  

Martin stuck to their word, making that dream a reality as they have played a vital role in the expansion of football for women. Although it hasn’t always come easy.   

“I’ve been playing since I was 18,” Martin said. “So, I have played a large chuck of my life. Playing over the years has given me a solid base. Everyone knows football is one of those life experience sports that is going to knock you down and force you to get back up. I think football has made me more resilient.”  

“Football has given me two major things. It set me up with a solid foundation and helped me grow and push myself.”  

Martin has held many different roles in the sport, including four stints on the U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team as a defensive player, becoming the first and only player to be a member of all four gold medal-winning teams. When reminiscing on their time with the National Team, Martin highlighted their first year as their most memorable.   

“I’ve been super fortunate to be part of all four Women’s Tackle National Teams. I’ve been very lucky to play alongside so many great players,” Martin said. “My first time on the team was in 2010. I had only been in 11-on-11 football for one season. I was very low on the radar in terms of women’s football, but the people organizing the National Team knew who I was. I gave it a shot and made the team. It was a crazy experience getting to go to Sweden and compete against other countries. I had been out of the country before, but never for sports. It was just an amazing experience. That 2010 one was so incredibly special.”  

In 2017, Martin and their wife Katie launched The Rebellion, a San Diego-based women’s football team that is now part of the Women's National Football Conference. Martin is a former linebacker and defensive end who plays quarterback on the team while assisting with its operations and coaching varsity high school football in San Diego.   

Martin, a two-way player and coach, utilizes tools from both roles to help elevate their game.   

“I think coaching makes you a better player. If you’re a good coach, you must break the game down to the fundamentals and tell your players the most important things,” Martin said. “For me as a player, it was like I heard the coaching, but when I started coaching, I realized there were so many extra nuggets of information that I can apply to myself as player that I learned by coaching. It really does go both ways for me. Every year, I gain something from coaching or playing that I can transition into the other side. Coaching has given me access to other great coaches who are coming to elevate women’s football. They really have gone hand-in-hand with me because I have spent so much time coaching in my career.”  

Martin has been fortunate enough to see the game become more accessible for women and more visible across the country during their playing career.   

“The game has definitely changed a ton for the women. It used to be that the only coaches we could get were youth coaches, so it made it more like an intramural sport. Now, we are getting varsity football coaches, guys who have college experience, and even a few teams who have former NFL players,” Martin said. “As the skill level of the coaches goes up, the skill level of the players goes up. With more visibility, we are getting more athletes. We are getting athletes who are a year out of collegiate sports because women’s football is on their radar. Between the scheme and the athletic abilities of women who are playing, the game is really starting to show what it can be for fans and how fun it can be to watch.”  

Martin encourages women who are considering playing football to explore playing options and pick up the sport at their own pace.  

“My advice would be to start slow and move from there,” Martin said. “If you aren’t sure you want to play tackle, start with flag. There are recreational leagues where you can start, or you can find some friends who want to play pick up. There is something for everyone. You just have to find your something.” 

Accomplished star athletes like Martin will continue to drive women’s football forward with their exceptional dedication and knowledge of the sport.