Playing on the Iowa Crush women's football team is therapeutic for ISU MFA student

AMES, Iowa -- College students are always looking for novel ways to relieve the stress of exams and deadlines. One Iowa State University graphic design graduate student has found that playing women's tackle football for the Iowa Crush is about as therapeutic as it gets.

Devon Estes, who is working on her Master of Fine Arts, will be suited up to play linebacker for the Crush's last home game of the season at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 5. The game will be played at Valley Stadium, 4440 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines.

"Once I get on the playing field, everything else goes away and it's just about the play," Estes said. "The particular down is the only thing I'm thinking about. It's good therapy!"

Playing for the Iowa Crush fulfills a lifelong dream for Estes, an "Air Force kid" and graduate of Cornell College, Mount Vernon, who moved around a lot. Although she played softball, rode horses and climbed mountains while growing up in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Germany and New Zealand, she had a hankering to play football.

"I loved football and watched it all the time with my dad as a kid. I always fantasized about being able to play and just assumed I never would be able to," Estes said.

"So when the opportunity came up, I just took it! I thought it would be cool and a fun to do," she said.

The 33-player team is part of the 10-year old Independent Women's Football League. More than 1,600 women play the sport on 51 teams across North America. The Crush plays teams from Burnsville, Minn.; Kansas City; Baton Rouge, La.; and Madison and Kenosha, Wis. Their eight-game season spans 10 weeks starting the first weekend in April. Going into their last game, their record is 3-4.

Estes is completing her first season with the team, nearly injury-free (a pulled hip flexor recovers between games). Since they began practice in January -- every Saturday, most Sundays and chalk talk on Wednesday nights -- Estes spends about 10 to 15 hours a week with the team, concentrating on her schoolwork during the week.

After the season ends, she'll play softball in Ames with fellow design students on a team named aptly, "U&lc" (upper and lower case). And, Estes will focus on her thesis about something dear to her heart --- using graphic design to brand a women's football team's identity.

Technically, the Iowa Crush team is professional. But despite the nearly 200 fans at home games, the players don't get paid. All of the players have jobs. Mostly, Estes says, they play "for the love of the game."

"It's physically hard, but I love it," Estes said. "I can't think of anything else I would travel so far for, spend my strength on and possibly get hurt for. So I do love it!"