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She hits like a boy, blocks like a boy and loves sports like the boys.
The only thing that gives her away on the field is her ponytail.
Gianna Rose, pictured above, is the only girl on her pee wee football team. In fact, she’s the only girl out of about 120 football players in the Marco Island Eagles Youth Football Organization.
The blonde ponytail hangs just past her shoulders, sticking out from under her helmet, as she crouches until the snap. She fires up and explodes, shoving her hands into the chest of her opponent while 20 boys wait their turn during drills on a recent evening at Mackle Park on Marco Island.
“You guys watch Gianna — she’s one of our best blockers out here,” said Jim Prange, the assistant coach whose son also plays for the Golden Eagles. “We need a few more girls on this team.”
The boys groan.
Gianna doesn’t flinch.
“Some girls are afraid to hit, but I’m not,” Gianna said.
The 9-year-old Tommie Barfield Elementary School student has had a passion for football since she was a baby watching New York Giants games from her high chair. Her mom has the pictures to prove it.
“I’ve been around football my whole life,” she said. “I just love it so much and I watch it all the time, so I actually know what to do.”
She plays running back and tight end, but if she had her choice of any position, she would play wide receiver so she could get her hands on the ball and make touchdowns.
“She’s probably a better athlete than 50 percent of the boys out here,” said Joe Bartos, a parent and coach with two sons on Gianna’s team.
The sun sets beyond the park as five teams in the organization — two pee wee, two junior and one senior team — get ready for the upcoming Saturday game. Gianna pulls out her mouth guard and spits. Between plays she scraps in a harmless push-and-shove with her opponents and slaps teammates on the shoulder pads with kudos for a job well done.
“From an attitude standpoint, I wish I had 22 just like her,” said Eagles head coach Greg West.
Her heart for the game shows as she’s one of the first to the line and first to the huddle.
“She has so much enthusiasm for this,” said her mom Daneen Rose, who supports her daughter’s love of the game, but didn’t always like the idea of her being on the field.
“After I saw her play (in the first game) I was much calmer,” said Rose, who helps coach her other daughter, Francesca, 5, on the Eagles cheerlead ing squad.
But, Gianna’s never been scared to play and she knows the boys underes timate her. She uses it to her advantage.
“They don’t think I’m tough,” Gianna said. “And then I go up against them and I nail them, and they’re like ‘whoa.’ ”
Practice is almost over. A few more plays left before the teams head home.
“Hey G, ready to hit a boy?” said opponent Will Glasser, a boy her same age, but a couple inches taller.
Gianna crouches at the line, her green eyes focus on Will with a look that says he better watch out. She wasn’t only ready to hit a boy, she was ready to hit like a boy.