A Guardian on the Gridiron: U.S. Space Force Lieutenant Wins Women’s Football Championship

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Spencer Contreras

A fierce competitive spirit is something that the U.S. military aims to instill in all of its members, both in and out of uniform, and the U.S. Space Force is no exception.

U.S. Space Force 1st Lt. Natalie Nicks, 645th Cyberspace Squadron cyber crew commander, and her team, the Mississippi Panthers, won the Women’s National Football Conference championship by capping off their undefeated season with a victory at the 2024 IX Cup on June 23, 2024.

Nicks played outside receiver for her second season with the Panthers, as they competed in the WNFC, a women’s tackle football league now in its fifth season. The league plays a short season consisting of six regular, two playoff and one championship game. Over the 2024 season, Nicks supported her team with 195 yards on 11 catches, three touchdowns and a league leading two non-kick conversions.

Growing up, Nicks was an avid athlete and played basketball from childhood all the way through her time in the U.S. Air Force Academy. Two years ago, she was approached to try out for the emerging WNFC.

Nicks was able to attend pre-season training with her team, but during the 2024 season, trained on her own due to being stationed at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida. Her coaches would send her workouts and critiques, and it was up to her to improve her game and continue her conditioning in the gym.

Her dedication was rewarded by her coaches. In a mid-season game against the team they would eventually play for the championship, the Texas Elite Spartans, Nicks was entrusted to receive a game-winning pass with less than a minute left on the clock, which secured them the victory and broke their rivals’ unbeaten streak.

As an active-duty military officer, Nicks has to actively balance her football commitments with the duties and responsibilities of her U.S. Space Force career. This season was particularly demanding for her as an out-of-state player.

“I would be on my laptop at the airport and before games doing training,” said Nicks. “I’m taking leave for football, but I’m teleworking and making sure things are squared away. It was tough, but it keeps me sharp.”

Despite the difficulty in balancing the two, Nicks still advises others to follow their passions outside of work.

“You need to feed your body, your mind and your spirit,” said Nicks. “Don’t give up on any of them—keep pushing and make it happen.”

In her duties as a cyber crew commander, Nicks credits her approach to team management in the 645th CYS to her experience with athletics.

“Being the senior team member in sports has influenced my career and given me a teamwork mindset,” said Nicks. “Everyone has a job and the best thing you can do is to learn how you, and the people beside and behind you, can all benefit one another.”

In turn, her military experience has also shaped her mindset when it comes to athletic competition.

“The mental resilience and discipline that is instilled in you has been instrumental in all aspects of my life,” said Nicks. “I’m always striving to get one percent better or learn something new every day and to improve myself and those around me.”

As for her future, Nicks has expressed her commitment to continuing both her personal and professional pursuits.

“With football, I want to play until I can’t any longer,” said Nicks. “And I’ll serve Uncle Sam as long as he allows me to serve.”

The Mississippi Panthers are slated to compete again next season, and Nicks plans to be on the field alongside her teammates to defend their championship title.