Flag football catching on at Plant

Stephanie Murray is putting on a show.

The Plant (Tampa, Fla.) junior quarterback is slinging the ball through the air with authority and accuracy. Her receivers are running precise routes, snagging the ball with outstretched arms and turning upfield toward the end zone.

It may be girls playing flag football, but they have proved quite capable on the gridiron.

Plant is one of 151 Florida schools that has girls' flag football, a sport officially recognized by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Teams have been competing for a state title since 2003 in an atmosphere just as competitive as the boys. And no pessimists are going to tell them otherwise.

"Even when I was younger, everyone said I had a better arm than half of the guys on the football team," says Murray.

It's hard to argue Murray's point considering she passed for 2,700 yards and 42 touchdowns as a sophomore and can throw a 60-yard bomb to the corner of the end zone. Yet some of her classmates still mock flag football, calling it a "powder puff" sport.

The Plant girls tell their critics to come watch them play before forming an opinion.

"A lot of guys don't understand that flag football is just as physical and challenging as tackle football," says Rebecca Marve, a junior wide receiver who caught nine touchdown passes as a sophomore.

To prove it, the girls played a few of the boys' junior varsity players in a scrimmage the last two years. The record: Girls 2, Boys 0.

"That's where the respect started," says Plant coach Bo Puckett, who's also the boys' varsity defensive backs coach. "Once they saw how good these girls are, they started to support the team more."

The boys' team regularly attends the girls' games, and two former legends at the school have become their biggest supporters.

Aaron Murray and Robert Marve, the older brothers of Stephanie and Rebecca, were all-everything quarterbacks at Plant and now play at Georgia and Purdue, respectively. They attend their sisters' games whenever possible and also give them advice and one-on-one instruction.

Robert and Rebecca play catch whenever he's home. Robert also watches her film and helps refine her route running. Aaron sends Stephanie daily text messages, helps her improve her footwork in the pocket and teaches her how to read defenses through film study.

"It feels good to know that I can be a quarterback like my brother," says Murray. "It's cool to show him that I can do it."

She's proved her ability to Aaron. Now it's time for the haters to take a look.

Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.