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Murray enjoying AYA football as a girl in a sea full of boys

Mudbugs Cathedral School AYA football player Hannah Murrary, 8, dashes past an Atkins Lumber Adams County Christian School AYA football player during a game Saturday morning at Trinity Episcopal Day School’s football field. Hannah plays linebacker, tailback and center. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Once she puts on her jersey and pads, Hannah Murray sort of blends in with the boys.

And while football is predominantly a male sport, that doesn’t seem to bother Murray at all.

The Cathedral School third-grader is a center, linebacker and tailback for the Mudbugs AYA third- and fourth-grade football team. But being surrounded by boys didn’t start on the football field but in her own back yard with her brothers, Cooper, 14, and Conner, 11.

Murray said she would see her two siblings playing football outside and would join them when she was old enough.

“I just wanted to start playing,” Murray said. “I always played with them, and it was fun to me.”

And that wasn’t limited to her backyard, either. Recess at school was also a chance to catch the pigskin, and Murray said she’s hoping other girls will follow her lead.

“There may be a couple of other girls that play next year,” Murray said.

Mudbugs coach Jeff Gamberi said he thought it was great when he found out a girl would be on his team. Murray is in the same class as Gamberi’s son, Brady, and he said he also coached her brother Conner for two years.

“With her having two older brothers, she’s tough,” Gamberi said. “I know she’ll be OK out there. I had no issues at all with her being out there.”

Though uncommon, having a girl play AYA football is not totally unheard of. Cathedral student Abby Brown played AYA football in 2007 on the Reeves Drug Store team, which won the third- and fourth-grade championship that year. Cooper also played on that same team.

Murray said she’s not afraid to play physical football when she’s out on the field.

“I like the part where you get to tackle,” Murray said. “That’s my favorite part, but I like to run the ball, too.”

Conner said he knows all too well just how hard his younger sister can hit — especially since he invites it.

“I annoy her a lot, so she gets mad, and she hits hard when she gets mad,” Conner said.

Murray said she gets mad pretty often, and Conner said it doesn’t bother her sister to hit other people.

“It doesn’t bother him, either,” Murray clarified.

Gamberi said Murray is quite fast, and he also sees that she’s not afraid to get hit.

“She has an eagerness to want to get back in even after she takes a hit,” Gamberi said. “She wants to play and learn. I felt like the first time she got it really hard that it might change her mind, but it didn’t.”

Even if it doesn’t bother her, Murray said she doesn’t particularly enjoy getting hit.

“Getting tackled hard is my least favorite part,” Murray said. “It doesn’t hurt, I just don’t like the fact that I’m getting tackled. I’m not like, ‘Oh, I want to get tackled.’”

Despite being the only girl, Murray said she doesn’t have any problems with her teammates.

“The other boys don’t make fun of me,” Murray said.

Though he gets on his sister’s nerves when they play together, Conner said there is one thing about his sister playing that impresses him.

“Just the fact that she’s getting out there,” Conner said.

As much as she enjoys the game, Murray said she would likely be on the sidelines when AYA football rolls back around next fall.

“I’ll probably do cheerleading next year,” Murray said. “I won’t play football.”

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