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CatBall: One-on-one With Cat Reddick

U.S. defender Cat Reddick grew up enthralled by American college football. While it’s certainly unusual for a girl from Alabama to develop into one of her country’s top fútbol players, Reddick has not drifted too far from her roots. Reddick and her teammates continue on the long road to the 2007 Women’s World Cup with a match against Australia on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. (ESPN2), but she has not lost sight of some other really important things, like the SEC Championship game, the Sugar Bowl and the BCS. And, oh yeah, her upcoming wedding at the end of December.

This is Cat Reddick’s favorite time of the year.

It is women’s college soccer season, which dominated four of her falls when she was a star defender at North Carolina.

And yes, she enjoys Halloween (one year she dressed up as a stick of Extra gum and another time as a cheerleader). And, of course, she cherishes the coming Christmas holidays, but it’s not the season of St. Nick, Nativity scenes and snowmen that we’re talking about.

We’re talking about The Swamp, The War Eagle, Between the Hedges, and whooooooaaaaa Nellie!…the Crimson Tide.

We’re talking college football season.

“When the beginning of August hits, I literally count down the days until the kickoff of the season,” said Reddick, who grew up Birmingham, Alabama, in the heart of SEC country. “I look forward to waking up early on Saturdays to watch College GameDay. I have no problem sitting on the couch all day watching football, unless UNC is at home and I can go tailgate at Kenan Stadium.”

There is no sport in America that more closely captures the fervor seen in the club rivalries of European soccer than college football.

If you were to describe thousands of fans connected by their allegiance to a team, all wrapped in their team’s colors, singing and screaming during the game, fans who are on the edge of their seats with every kick, where passions run so high they sometimes bubble over, you could be describing Arsenal vs. Tottenham or Alabama vs. Auburn.

If Reddick was born a boy, she might have been a football star (she quarterbacked her powder puff football teams in high school to victories as both a junior and senior), but it was soccer that attracted her as a little girl.

“I never really thought about playing football,” said Reddick, who has an older sister Ginny, but no brothers. “I just loved playing soccer ever since I can remember, but I do remember my sister and I would always play football against my dad in my front yard. It was just the two of us against him. He would always win when we were younger, but the older we got, the more we beat him. I think that’s where I got a lot of my competitiveness.”

In fact, the rivalry has lasted until this day. Every Thursday Reddick and her dad Phil, the Associate Pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, get on the phone and make their picks of the biggest college football games of the weekend. Whoever is behind at the end of the season (including bowl games) buys the other dinner at the restaurant of their choice.

The younger Reddick is on a two-year losing streak, but thinks she can turn it around this year.

“Right now, I’m up by one game, and I think I can keep it going,” said Reddick. “The weekends are really stressful. The most stressful thing is picking a team I don’t want to win, but that I think will win.”

That brings us to Reddick’s allegiances.

How does a girl who grew up 45 minutes from Tuscaloosa and two hours from Auburn favor their SEC rivals, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators?

For someone who grew up in Birmingham, it’s an admittedly strange loyalty, and one that she may be explaining for the rest of her life.

“My mom went to Florida and her whole side of the family are huge Gator fans and my dad went to Georgia and his whole family are huge Bulldog fans,” said Reddick, who admits to having some pride in the currently undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide, grew up wearing red and black with t-shirts bearing the wrinkled face of UGA, the legendary Georgia mascot. “Not until my sister went to college at Auburn did I truly appreciate the battle cry of ‘War Eagle’ and the Iron Bowl.”

Reddick takes her football so seriously that in the third quarter of Alabama’s romp over Florida two weekends ago, the thoroughly depressed Gator fan retired to her room, pulled the covers over her head, and went to sleep.

In fact, college football surely played at least a small part of Reddick’s recent engagement to her college sweetheart. She spent many a Saturday at her fiancé’s apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where they set up three televisions to watch the days’ games. Often, she was the only girl in the room.

“Well, sometimes some of the other girlfriends would pop in for some food,” said Reddick.

Perhaps those Saturdays went a long way to convincing Robert Whitehill that she was the perfect woman.

When Whitehill went to Birmingham to ask Phil Reddick for permission to marry his daughter, among the many questions Mr. Reddick asked was, “what about Catherine do you love?”

After listing many qualities he adored, Whitehill added, “…and she has a passion for college football.”

“You can thank me for that,” said Phil Reddick. “When I knew I would have two daughters, I promised myself they would know how to throw and love college football.”

Mission accomplished.

Sometimes before U.S. training, a small football appears and the U.S. players sling it around for a few minutes. Reddick can definitely throw the deep ball.

Since bursting onto the international scene at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Reddick has become a fixture on the U.S. back line, starting 35 of the 39 matches she has played over 2004 and 2005, seemingly solidifying a spot on her second Women’s World Cup Team.

Reddick, however, does have one major issue. The 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, scheduled for late September and early October, falls right smack dab in the middle of college football season.

Said Reddick, with a sad look on her face and hands on her head: “Do they get ESPN in China?” is the official website of U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer in the United States.