Bella Rasmussen never could have imagined she would be hearing from star athletes Chloe Kim and Alex Morgan, or being featured on "SportsCenter" and "Today" after she became the first female high school football player to sign a name, image and likeness deal earlier this month.
The senior at Laguna Beach (California) High School has had a whirlwind high school career. As a running back and defensive end, she played varsity football her junior and senior years. She rushed for 64 yards in 2021 and ran for 23 yards and two touchdowns in 2022.
In October, Rasmussen became the first female football player to score two touchdowns in a high school game. Then, earlier this week, she made history again by signing an endorsement deal with artificial intelligence software company KeyWise AI.
Meet Bella Rasmussen of #LagunaBeach in just minutes @ABC7. According to @CalHiSports she just made history as the first woman in Calif. to score two touchdowns in a high school varsity #football game. #girlsrock #womenmakinghistory #womeninfootball #highschoolfootball #oc pic.twitter.com/BHWRbFGYeg— Jessica De Nova (@abc7jessica) October 21, 2022
"I honestly couldn't have ever imagined that my life would be where it is right now," Rasmussen told ESPN. "It was getting so much attention from people I never, ever could have dreamed of hearing from and it's just been so crazy to see where the platform is being taken right now."
Rasmussen started playing football at six years old because she wanted to do everything her older brother did. She would play with her male cousins and eventually started loving the game herself. She looked for opportunities to play on flag football teams as a youth but made her way to tackle football instead.
After first catching the attention of her peers as a girl playing with the boys, Rasmussen quickly found acceptance while playing in high school.
"When I joined [the team] at Laguna, it was so easy," Rasmussen said. "There wasn't a pushback, all the coaches were super excited to have me out there. I think the only thing was people genuinely were just waiting to see how I was going to play and how I was going to perform on the field."
There was some hesitancy before she took her first hit in practice, but it wasn't long before her coaches and teammates treated her the same as everyone else.
She didn't start playing football to prove a point or make a statement, but she quickly realized she was inspiring other athletes.
"I just wanted to play sports and I liked football," Rasmussen said. "But it's definitely turned into something that I never thought it would be, where I think a lot of people are looking to me to see what's going to happen next, because I think I'm kind of proving that if you put your mind to something, it really can be possible and it really can come true."
Rasmussen wants to major in psychology in college, and while the opportunity to play college football has not presented itself through a scholarship offer just yet, she would welcome the challenge. She became interested in psychology and mental health through seeing some of her family members deal with mental health issues of their own.
She knew she wanted to help them and others in some way, but wasn't sure how. Michael Ehrlich, head of athlete engagement at MarketPryce, which is an athlete NIL marketplace, was interested in partnering with Rasmussen after seeing her story on television.
Keywise AI has developed an app, using artificial intelligence to compute brain health metrics, that provides mental health feedback and actionable insights to manage it.
Ehrlich reached out to the family about the possibility of partnering with the company, and Rasmussen and her parents were on board.
"They weren't interested at all in chasing checks or looking for the next sneaker brand or energy drinks," Ehrlich said. "They wanted to do this strategically and if they were going to participate, it had to be with a brand that had a mission that aligned with their family values. Every conversation that I had with them about exploring what makes sense for them, mental health and wellness were the No. 1 things that they talked about."
Through the partnership, Rasmussen has entered a long-term deal with the company in which she will help bring awareness through social media and digital content. She will use the app herself and provide the company feedback from her perspective on how it has helped and what can improve.
She has gone viral for her accomplishments on the football field and now within the NIL space, but Rasmussen is making sure her message is clear. She wants to help others as long as her name is in the spotlight. If she can use her platform for good, then she'll continue to do what she can and be an advocate for those who don't have as big of a reach.
She never intended to make a big difference when she started playing football as a 6-year-old girl, but she knows now that there's a new generation of young girls watching her and looking up to her as an example of what they, too, can accomplish.
"I think there are a lot of girls who want to play football who reached out to me; I had 10 or 12 girls today [Thursday] alone who reached out saying they wanted to play football and asked me if I had any advice," Rasmussen said. "I am really excited to be a part of that, and I felt like this [partnership] was actually something that I was passionate about beyond just money or putting my name out there. It's like there's an actual storyline here and I want to be part of it."