LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — On a seemingly ordinary Friday night last October, the Laguna Beach High School football team faced Godinez Fundamental High School. Bella Rasmussen stood on the sidelines, waiting for the coaches to call her number. As the two teams battled in front of her, the sparsely populated crowd’s distant cheers and each thud of the players’ cleats could be heard.
The football field had been Rasmussen’s sanctuary since she was six years old, but her playing career for Laguna Beach was ending soon as her senior season was winding down. Like many high school seniors, she wondered what her next step would be as she bridged the gap between high school and adulthood.
“Genuinely, the only place that I felt completely safe and at home was on the football field,” Rasmussen said. “Now we take football out of the picture, and what happens next? Life was moving really fast. I wasn’t really sure where I was supposed to be going and what I was supposed to be doing… I felt like life was moving on without me.”
Little did Rasmussen know her life was about to change forever.
Early in the second quarter, she entered the game with her team on the goal line. She placed her hands on her hips, and when the ball was snapped, she burst out of her stance. Then, she broke a tackle in the backfield before charging headfirst into the endzone.
“I just immediately started tearing up,” Rasmussen said. “It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long…it finally made me feel like it was worth it. Like everything was worth it.”
The cheers no longer felt distant as she was showered with praise by her teammates and the crowd. But there was more celebration after Rasmussen found the endzone a second time later in the quarter. With it, she made history, becoming the first female high school football player in California to score two touchdowns in a single game.
Shortly thereafter, her story went viral, leading to news interviews on NBC’s Today Show, and multiplier offers for her to sign name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals. She was also invited to compete in the “Battle of the G.OA.T.S.” flag football game at SoFi Stadium and joined forces with Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler on his new app, Eksperiences.
“I never would have imagined… meeting people like Antonio Gates and LT [LaDainian Tomlinson], Joe Hayden, and Mookie Betts,” Rasmussen said. “All those guys that are superstar athletes, and being able to compete against them was just something that I never would have dreamed.”
But the dreams didn’t end there. Rasmussen was surprised with tickets from the NFL and the Chargers for Super Bowl LVI in Glendale, Arizona. Later, the NFL’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Tim Ellis, contacted her, asking her to participate in their Super Bowl commercial, “Run With It.”
“Four years ago, we were watching the Super Bowl, and I thought, ‘how awesome it must be [to go] to the Super Bowl,’” Rasmussen recalled. “I was so stoked because I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I just remember almost crying because it was just something that I had never thought would happen. I was so excited.”
Rasmussen’s mother, Annette, attributes Bella’s courage and toughness to her being the only female on her football teams over the past eight seasons. Bella however, believes it was football that instilled that courage in her, and now she wants to pay it forward. Rasmussen recently partnered with KeyWise AI, a continuous remote monitoring system for mental health, out of all the companies that made her offers. Her goal is to inspire that same courage and confidence in others.
“Let’s talk about mental health. I have this platform, and I want to use it for good,” said Rasmussen about her partnership with KeyWise AI. “What’s important to me is creating a story and a place for people to feel safe and hopefully giving them the same courage that football gave me.”
After scoring those now infamous touchdowns, Rasmussen’s life is moving ten times faster than it was before, but instead of uncertainty, her future is now becoming clearer. Instead of looking ahead to a life without football, she is now considering how to include the game she loves in her plans. She wants to become a sports broadcaster, hoping to put her own spin on the profession.
“I feel like I could take it to a whole other level,” Rasmussen said about broadcasting. “I would be able to ask questions in depth because I understand the game…I want to prove that women in sports is a real thing. We can understand the game too… I think it’s the dream of changing the game that’s keeping me going.”
Her roughly 12 years of football experience will give her a unique understanding and skill set when telling stories as a sports broadcaster.
“I think football has genuinely made me who I am. It’s made me resilient,” Rasmussen said. “I can’t thank football enough for the way that it changed my life and shaped who I am… It’s given me a lot of tools that I can take through the rest of my life.”
The rest of her life is still unwritten, but she is currently evaluating her options regarding higher education for when she graduates high school in a few months. Part of her wants to go out-of-state for college, and another would like to stay in California. She is also considering interning with the NFL or the Chargers.
When Rasmussen finally takes her next step, she will do so with newfound confidence and certainty about her future. While there is still plenty of time for her path to change, she is enjoying the life-altering experiences that have guided her post-football future.
“This [experience] has genuinely made me realize… that everything happens for a reason, and this definitely proves it,” Rasmussen said. “I went through those struggles so that I could get to where I am today. Nothing is by coincidence… there’s a plan and something greater. Whether that’s God, the universe, there’s something greater that’s leading me through each day, and I just have to trust the process.”