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Kicking It with ... Cat Reddick

Cat Reddick may be the youngest player on the U.S. World Cup squad, but she's far from being the wide-eyed World Cup neophyte that you'd expect. And with 36 caps earned over the past four years, the 21-year-old Birmingham, Ala., native has more experience than many of her teammates. In fact, you'd think she was a veteran at first glance, due to her willingness to make a risky pass out of the back to kick-start the offense at times rather than a safe one a few yards away or how she'll vie for a free kick opportunity no matter which Grande Dame is nearby. Reddick has also shown the type of poise, confidence and overall savvy on the field combined with excellent skills that U.S. fans need not worry about the future of the defense once Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett retire from international soccer. Combining the grit of a young Carla Overbeck and the offensive instincts of Chastain either with runs up the flank or with long balls played up to the strikers, Reddick is the type of player that we'll likely see wearing the captain's armband someday, perhaps when she's playing in her third or fourth World Cup. She also brings a little Southern flavor to the side as the first player from Alabama to be capped with the National Team, as well as the squad's resident college football aficionado. But, of course, there was a time not too long ago when Reddick was star struck around her famous teammates. I caught up with Miss Reddick on Tuesday evening, shortly after she had returned from "team-building" activities with the U.S. squad, and before she put her World Cup thoughts aside for a few hours to dive into the homework she has been keeping up with as a current senior at the University of North Carolina. Connolly: You were actually in the stands at the Rose Bowl when the U.S. beat China in '99. How'd that come about?

Reddick: I had a friend who bought an extra ticket. She said, 'If you can get out her, you got yourself a ticket.' I was like, Hey, I'm there. I couldn't pass that up.

Connolly: How closely had you followed the games up until that point?

Reddick: Not as closely as I should have been. I was basically watching the American games, but I should have been watching every other team play because I didn't realize what a great World Cup was being played at the moment. I wish I had watched more. But I did get to see Brazil play Norway in the third-place game because I had tickets for that too.

Connolly: Realistically, were you sitting there thinking that you could be out there in 2003?

Reddick: It was not in my mind as far as being here in 2003. What was on my mind was that I want to be here in 2003. I saw how amazing the game was and to see history, so I thought how I'd want to be a part of it the next time it came around. It made me want to work harder, and it motivated me.

Connolly: When you got into the team as an 18-year-old, you seemed to fit in and belong among the veterans. But what was going on inside of you? Were you star struck at all?

Reddick: I definitely was. Anson Dorrance, my coach at the University of North Carolina, calls it genuflecting. There are times when I'm still doing it, really. I'll think, Oh my gosh, I'm playing right behind Julie Foudy and right next to Brandi Chastain and one person over from Joy Fawcett. I have to stop myself from doing it because it gets me out of my game.

They are all so great and they make it easy for me. Just listening to them talking in my ear calms me so much because I know that they've been there and I know that they know what to do. I'll do whatever they tell me, because I trust everything that they say.

Connolly: Has there been any part of being with this group that's been different than how you thought it would be?

Reddick: The different part is probably just how easy it was to come into the team. I thought that they wouldn't like me, but they accepted me better than any team I've ever been on. It's hard to come in as a young player because many times the others think you're going to take their spot. But they were so accepting, and that was the best part of it. I loved it.

Connolly: Was there one moment when you first thought, OK, I'm one of them now.

Reddick: Up until being named to the World Cup roster, I was worried about making every roster. You always want to remain humble and never take anything for granted, so it wasn't until now that I really say that I am a part of them. I can say that now because the World Cup is here.

Connolly: Has there been one player whose game you've emulated at all?

Reddick: No, not really. I have a different style than most people. I kind of just play to my strengths, which is the best way to go about things. Tactically, I like to listen to Brandi and Joy because they explain things so well, and they get things done so well without hesitation. So, tactically, I want to be like them.

Technically, I want to bring a new dimension to the game. The only way that I can help this team is to bring something different to the table, so I haven't really emulated one specific person. I've tried to combine bits of them together.

Connolly: Once Brandi and Joy move on, is being a central defender where you want to be?

Reddick: Playing at UNC, I've grown accustomed to playing the middle and I like it. Being on the outside is OK, too, but I like being in the middle as the anchor of the defense and in a leadership position, which I've accepted as my role with UNC. I look at Joy and Brandi with this team, and they are truly leaders in the back.

Connolly: It's as close to having two coaches on the field with you, isn't it?

Reddick: Oh yeah, definitely. I find myself learning something new all the time, even in the middle of games. I want to be just like them as I get older. I want to bring the same thing to the team that they bring because I don't want their legacy to be forgotten.

Connolly: As the only college player on the team, how are you finding time to do your assignments?

Reddick: It gets kind of hard because there are things going on that you want to do. People are going to the mall or the movies, and I have to make the decision to do my work. The load, overall, isn't too difficult. The online classes are at your own pace, in a way, so you can go at your own pace. They give you deadlines and all that, but I can fit in the reading and everything when I can.

What is difficult is not being able to go out with my teammates because they don't have homework. That's really the hardest part.

Connolly: Last summer people were asking you questions about whether you'd leave UNC early for the WUSA. Was that something you really considered?

Reddick: I did consider it. Playing in the WUSA last year would have definitely prepared for playing this year in the World Cup. I asked many different people, including both coaches here -- April (Heinrichs and Bill Palladino -- and Anson, as well as my parents. After we went over the positives and the negatives, everyone told me to do what I wanted. And my heart led me back to UNC because I love my team, and I want to win another national championship, if possible.

I owe so much to UNC because they brought me in and are the main reason for where I am today. So I wanted to give back to them. The WUSA would've helped a lot, but I'm glad I made my decision now. (laughing)

Connolly: I think there will be a league for you to play in once you are done with the year, though, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Reddick: I hope so.

Connolly: But when you do go back to UNC in the fall, are you prepared to deal with all the people who will recognize you? If you win the World Cup, can you imagine what that'll be like?

Reddick: I haven't thought much about it. It'd be great, though.

Connolly: Are you comfortable with dealing with the fame that comes from being on this team?

Reddick: My roommates love to tell people that I'm on the National Team because it makes my face go bright red. It means a lot to me. I also have a boyfriend there who keeps me humble. He'll be like, 'You're nobody' (laughing). He's obviously supportive the whole way through, but he just wants to keep me humble and that I keep my focus on different things than being a star or anything like that.

When I get back to my team, I want to be just like every girl on the team. That's the way I want it to be. If winning the World Cup helps the attendance at North Carolina, I'm all for it, though.

Connolly: Being the youngest on the squad, do you have any special duties to carry out like carrying the water or equipment here or there, or get relegated to the worst hotel room? Anything like that?

Reddick: There really hasn't been anything like that, which is surprising to me.

Connolly: You're lucky.

Reddick: I know, huh? I got it all my freshman year in college. I had to take down the goals, wash the pinnies and things like that. Every now and then I might have to sit in the back because I'm younger or someone will say, 'I get first pick because I'm older,' but there really hasn't been much of that. I think they want to treat everyone the same since we're all there for the same reason and you know your role.

That's what makes being on this team so easy.

Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: shaketiller10@yahoo.com.