Just like one of the boys

Vanessa Mariani, 8, is one of her team's best players for Costa Mesa Pop Warner, which has its opening day today.

August 20, 2010|By Matt Szabo,
  • Vanessa Mariani, 8, is the only girl playing on the Costa Mesa Pop Warner Junior Mighty Mites football team.
Vanessa Mariani, 8, is the only girl playing on the Costa… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

Vanessa Mariani is the only one on the Costa Mesa Pop Warner Junior Mighty Mite team with the double-X chromosome.

Coach Erik Koste, though, just calls Vanessa the "X" player. And it's because of the extra effort she puts in on the field.

"She's our 'X' player and there's very few of them," Koste said. "What it is, it's a player that plays both ways all the time. People in the backfield can't be an 'X' player because if you're an 'X' player, you're not allowed to touch the ball. She's so unselfish that she's not worried about carrying the ball … she could easily be the best running back on the team, too. But I think she just likes to be out there so much."

Vanessa, 8, is in her second year playing football. She plays guard on offense and another very important position — middle linebacker — on defense. She's a team captain and, in Koste's estimation, one of the top players on the team.


League president Steve Mensinger said she's the only female among the 248 players in Costa Mesa Pop Warner. The organization has its opening day ceremonies at noon today at Jim Scott Stadium, and teams will hold scrimmages this afternoon, as well.

If you're there, look for Vanessa. She'll be the one in uniform No. 1 with the long, free-flowing brown hair coming out the back of her helmet. And, to give her a football compliment, she plays like a boy. She talks like one, too. She's just one of the guys.

"I was the youngest guy on the team last year," Vanessa said of her "rookie" year last year, when she also played Junior Mighty Mite. "I was the smallest. I only had two or three friends. They were all bigger than me."

Now she fits in just fine with her male counterparts and her mother, Sonya Mariani, is not surprised. She has two other children in Pop Warner as Zaira, 12, is a cheerleader and Michael, 10, plays for a Junior Pee Wee team. Vanessa's oldest sister, Carly, is going into her sophomore year at Costa Mesa High and plays volleyball there.

The Marianis don't usually watch sports, but Sonya talked about how Vanessa would go to her older cousin's house for family gatherings and be drawn in by the group of men watching football on television. When Vanessa came home from school last year with a Costa Mesa Pop Warner flyer, her football career was officially about to get underway. She pestered her mom until she agreed to let her youngest daughter play, despite any reservations Vanessa's dad, Steve, might have had.

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