Jessica Cabrera teaches self-defense to corrections officers at the Suffolk County Jail. So when the 39-year-old Weymouth resident takes the field for the Boston Militia, an unbeaten franchise in the Women’s Football Alliance, the transition to defensive end is second nature.
A star forward on the basketball court — and self-described “rebounding freak’’ — at John Jay High School in Brooklyn and later Emmanuel College in Boston, Cabrera has played women’s full-contact football for 13 seasons.
“Football is a challenge for me to push myself to the limit. I watched football growing up, I love the physicality of the game,’’ said Cabrera, a sergeant with the Suffolk County sheriff’s office. “People at the sheriff’s office always ask if I’m still playing and when our season starts, and a couple of my co-workers have come to our games.’’
The Militia, founded by automobile dealer Ernie Boch Jr., won the WFA championship in 2011. They will continue their quest for another league title July 13 at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, taking on the DC Divas in a third-round playoff game.
The championship game is scheduled for Aug. 3.
“I like to refer to Jessica as the team’s speech elocutionist,’’ said Militia general manager Frank Ferrelli. “She can really give a great motivational pregame talk to the team that’s direct and easily understood, and she’s a team player who works hard all the time.’’
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Cabrera, who has added 30 pounds of muscle since her college basketball days and who is especially adept at the pass rush, is the focal point of the Militia’s pre- and postgame ritual.
Before the game, a teammate always writes the initials GT (for gang tackle) on her right arm with a Sharpie pen. After a win, Cabrera is the last to leave the handshake line at midfield and then joins her waiting teammates in the end zone while chanting “bring the noise.”
“If we win, they write the letter P [for personal] and then the number of the game we won on my arm. We’ve been doing it for years,’’ said Cabrera, who graduated from Emmanuel in 1997 and is also an assistant varsity girls’ basketball coach at the Winsor School of Boston.
Militia defensive line coach Vernon Crawford said Cabrera is the team’s emotional leader.
“She has a motor that never stops,’’ said Crawford, a former linebacker for the New England Patriots. “And if something’s not right on or off the field, she’ll let you know because she’s so respected.’’
Her success and popularity with the Militia does not surprise either of her two former basketball coaches, John Losasso at John Jay or Andy Yosinoff at Emmanuel.
Cabrera was a team captain and three-time all-city selection at John Jay, and according to Losasso she still ranks among the top-20 career scorers in New York State girls’ basketball.
“She was like a female Paul Silas on the court the way she had a nose for the basketball,’’ said Losasso, citing the former rugged rebounder for the Boston Celtics. “Her tenacity and the passion she put into the game were her strengths, along with her heart and instinct. When she went to the basket, everyone got out of the way.’’
At Emmanuel, where she majored in sociology, Cabrera scored more than 1,400 career points (ranking fifth all-time at the school) and was a ferocious rebounder. A team captain, she led the Boston school to multiple Great Northeast Athletic Conference titles and NCAA Division 3 Tournament berths.
She remains close to the program and returns to play in the alumni basketball games.
“I’ve coached at Emmanuel for 36 years,” said Yosinoff, “and all that time I never saw a better rebounder for her height than Jess. And when she crashed the boards, she’d be pretty vocal about it.”
After graduating from college, Cabrera was driving to New York City to take the police exam when she received a telephone call from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office that she had been hired.
Cabrera began playing football with the New England Storm and also suited up for the Boston Warriors and Rampage squads before joining the Militia, who improved to 9-0 June 22 with a 63-28 playoff victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Passion.
The Militia players pay league-low dues of $500 to defray expenses. Every new player receives an Under Armour team bag and a warm-up suit. Road game costs, including bus, hotel, and food, are covered by the team.
“It’s a commitment to be sure,’’ said Cabrera. “We practice twice a week, play on the weekends, and we also have captains’ practices to stay sharp. It’s like being part of a family.’’