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Wesson products love game

It’s not unusual for southerners, male and female, to have apassion for football. However, it is unusual for two Wesson youngwomen who play professional football for the New Orleans Blaze.

Mandy Douglas and Crystal Allen are rookie members of theNational Women’s Football Association team. It’s a full-contactleague, complete with male coaches, uniforms and an 8-game,regular-season schedule. which begins April 19. Home games areplayed in Kenner, La. at Muss Bertolino Stadium, located at 620West Esplanade Avenue.

“It’s something unique,” said Douglas, age 29, a 1996 Wessongraduate. “We’ve had a ball. It’s a lot of fun.”

Douglas should be starting at fullback and play some on thedefensive line, too, when the home opener against Pensacolaarrives. The home games are played in Kenner, a New Orleanssuburb.

Asked about her preference, Douglas said, “I like offense best.I carried it about 10 times in our last scrimmage.”

She said she enjoys the contact and the fierce competition.

“I had a friend who was playing and I had seen her practice afew times,” said Douglas. “When I started staying in Baton Rouge, Igot in touch with the owners and started practicing with theteam.”

Head coach for the Blaze is Greg Jelks. The team had a FanAppreciation Day last weekend. Interest is growing in the CrescentCity which faithfully follows the New Orleans Saints during the NFLseason.

“Right now, we are just learning basic stuff and 4-3 defenses,”said Douglas.

She has been going to school at Southern Miss, taking, onlinecourses in education.

She enjoyed sports as a youngster and played in the BrookhavenPee Wee Football League which was mainly composed of boys. Sheplayed quarterback and tailback for local attorneys/coaches BillBoerner and Woody Breeland. Boerner’s son, Michael, was ateammate.

After peewee football, she continued her deep love for sports.Douglas played softball and basketball at Wesson. She alsoparticipated in track.

This is the seventh year for the Blaze to be in action. Thefranchise had to skip a year because of Hurricane Katrina.

They practice three days a week, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. “Once amonth we have a long practice,” said Douglas. She said LisaLunsford, the team’s middle linebacker, also is team owner.

“Our starting quarterback is living in Texas because of thehurricane,” said Douglas. “She flies in for practice.”

In preparation for the season, the Blaze have scimmaged the NewOrleans Voodoo, an all-male Arena Football League team. Douglassaid her favorite NFL player was Dan Marino, retired quarterbackwith the Miama Dolphins. “Even though Marino doesn’t play anymore,I still pull for the Dolphins.”

Having a teammate from her hometown is a plus.

“I kind of recruited Crystal,” said Douglas. “She asked aboutit. She plays tailback and wide receiver.”

Allen is living and working in New Orleans. She wants to becomea police officer in the Crescent City.

Asked about her football team, Allen said, “It’sinteresting. If everything goes well, we could be on television forthe first time. This is history.”

Active in high school athletics, Allen said she missedbeing involved in competitive sports. She played softball,basketball and ran track at Wesson. In track, she competed in the100-meter dash, the hurdles and the long jump.

“I’m one of the smallest ones on the team,” said Allenwho stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 148 pounds. “It’s ratherintimidating. Being fast helps.”

Allen ran her best high school time of 11.7 in the100-yard dash. Allen tried out for the Blaze in October andimpressed the coaches with her speed.

Her day job is working at a tobacco store, called theCigar Factory, on Bourbon St., located in the heart of the FrenchQuarter, Allen said she sees and meets people from all walks oflife.

“I work the day shift so I don’t have to deal with allthe crazies who come out at night.”

The worldwide web helped Allen rekindle an oldfriendship with Douglas. “Mandy found me on My Space, on theinternet. I hadn’t talked to her in about six years.”

An NFL fan, Allen said she watches a lot of games ontelevision. “I like Peyton Manning. He’s my favorite. I’ve beenfollowing him since he played at Tennessee.”

She said she was delighted to see his younger brotherquarterback the New York Giants to an upset of the New EnglandPatriots in last month’s Super Bowl. “I was happy for Eli. At leastthey can keep it in the family.”

Peyton Manning guided the Indianapolis Colts to the 2007Super Bowl championship.

After high school, Allen continued her athletic career,first at Co-Lin as a centerfielder on the softball team and laterat Jackson State University. She graduated from JSU in 2005, with abachelor’s degree in Spanish and French.

“I was in the National Guard and got activated after9-11.” Allen recalled. She saw active duty at Al Udeid air base inthe small Middle East country of Qatar, next to the PersianGulf.

A patriot, Allen enjoys the freedom afforded to womenliving in the USA. The professional football competition requiresdedication and hard work, plus a love for contact.

“I played a lot of yard ball as a kid,” said Allen.”This is the first time on a real team.”

Douglas and Allen hope they can gain some followers fromthe Wesson area when the 2008 season begins. Their team belongs tothe Southeast Division. All home games kick off at 7p.m.