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TITAN LINEBACKER IS MAKING HISTORY

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Meet Olympus High's newest linebacker - a gridiron pioneer.

"I love football and I'm going to play it. Whether I'm a girl or not, I'm on the team. I'm number 52."Introducing 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior Mary Neff.

"She's not out to make a statement about women or anything like that," said Olympus coach Tom Larson. "She's just a girl who likes football and wants to have fun."

And she's taking no shortcuts. Nor is she changing her lifestyle.

"She doesn't ask for special favors and we don't give her any," said Larson. "She's a pretty good athlete. When her turn comes in line, she does it."

Neff, 16, a self-proclaimed "total girl" who stills gets up early to curl her hair, has made the team and will dress for varsity games. Playing time will likely come at the junior varsity level.

"I'm just going to do the best I can. If I'm good enough to play varsity, I'll play varsity," she said. "I'm having so much fun. I love it. I wouldn't be out here if I didn't."

Her efforts thus far, which include surviving two-a-day practices, have helped Neff win over her teammates - many of whom were skeptical at first.

"I think she's a lot tougher than people think," said senior teammate Jeff Lingmann. "She's tougher than a lot of the guys out here. I'm glad to have her as part of the team."

When it came time to practice in full gear earlier this week, Neff told her teammates to hit her "like you would any other guy."

But Mary Neff is different - in more ways than one.

Utah prep football historian George Felt believes Neff is making history. Not only is she the first female football player at Olympus, her decision to play linebacker likely sets her apart on a statewide basis.

"I chose to do that. That's where I started in powder puff," said Neff, who was recruited to the gridiron squad by several of her male friends on the team. "If I'm going to play football, then I'm going to play football."

Right in the mix of things, just like Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor.

"If (others knock me down), there's nothing I can do but get up and hit them harder," said Neff, who isn't worried about the physical nature of the game. "I was more concerned with how people would react, but I knew it didn't matter because I'm doing this for myself." However, she realizes football isn't for everyone.

"It's really physically hard," Neff said. "It may sound rude, but I really feel that a lot of girls can't play football."

But Neff can. Just like her big brother, Brent, who quarterbacked the Titans three years ago.

"We thought it was all over until Mary showed a lot of interest in this after she played powder puff last year," said her father, Robert Neff. "It's going to be interesting, but I think she's going to hold her own."

Indeed. Mary wouldn't have it any other way.