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Star athlete

Making it to the final round of the National Football League's Punt, Pass and Kick program is a dream for more than 3.5-million competitors nationwide, but it's reality for 9-year-old Morgan Ferrara of Tampa.

On Saturday, Morgan will attend the American Football Conference divisional playoff game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with her mother and father, Sheila and Skip Ferrara, as one of 32 national finalists participating in the final round of the longtime program.

Mrs. Ferrara said that her daughter saw a sign for the competition at a soccer scrimmage and asked if she could participate.

"We are both excited and nervous but so proud of her," Mrs. Ferrara said.

The third-grader at Westchase Elementary School in Tampa gets some of her skills from playing soccer. She is the only girl on the 9-under team for the Tampa Mutiny.

"Kicking is my favorite part of the competition because I play soccer," Morgan said. She added that ex-Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Tony Saunders, her former soccer coach, taught her how to throw.

In addition to soccer, Morgan enjoys playing football in her neighborhood.

"Now that I can play the game, I like football more," she said.

The Punt, Pass and Kick competition, sponsored by the NFL and Pepsi, has been an annual event since 1961. It has four age divisions (8-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15) and separate teams for boys and girls. Eliminations start after the first local competition.

Morgan competed in Oldsmar on Sept. 11. After doing well there, she was invited to the sectional competition in Pinellas Park. She then advanced to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' team championship and won in the girls 8-9 division.

"I've been waiting to find out if I was going to the finals," Morgan said. "It is posted on the Web site, so every Monday and Tuesday, I've been checking the scores."

In addition to Morgan, the Buccaneers will have two other representatives in the competition: Brooke Bursiek of Cape Coral will compete in the girls 12-13 division; and Boone Lewis of Melbourne will compete in the boys 8-9 division. Each group of finalists consists of four girls and four boys from each of the four age groups.

In the competition, each participant has one try to punt, pass and kick a football as far and as accurately as possible. A score is determined for each skill, and the three scores are added together for the final score.

As the big day nears, Morgan's school is anticipating her appearance in the finals. "They talk about it on the morning show at school, and there is a picture in the background," she said.

Morgan's older sisters, Megan, 15, and Ashley, 13, also are excited and are cheering on their sister, Mrs. Ferrara said.

Punt, Pass and Kick will be held before the game in Pittsburgh, and there will be an exhibition at halftime. Clips from the competition will be shown throughout the game on CBS.

Now Morgan and her family are left counting the days until the finals.

"I'm kind of nervous, but I'm really excited," Morgan said. "I feel lucky because I'm one of the four 8- and 9-year-olds out of the whole country to go to the finals."

Lauren Adams, 17, is in 11th grade at Seminole High School.

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