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  Legless Mich. Teen Plays Football

The Associated Press
Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2000; 8:53 p.m. EDT

FLINT, Mich. –– A train accident that severed Willie McQueen's legs six years ago hasn't kept the seventh-grader from pursing his dreams of someday playing professional football.

In class, he uses a wheelchair because he doesn't like the feel of prosthetic devices. On the football field, where he starts at defensive tackle for the Southwestern Academy team, he moves by pushing off the ground with his powerful arms.

"I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me," Willie said. "I don't care about how people might look at me, or even if somebody wants to make fun of me. I know who I am. I know what I can do."

The 14-year-old has tremendous quickness and upper-body strength in addition to a low center of gravity, making it almost impossible for opponents to block him, Southwestern coach Adrian Phillips told The Flint Journal.

"When Willie gets his hands on you, you are going down," Phillips said.

"I try to tell people about him, but it's something that you really have to see for yourself to believe," Phillips said. "He does everything everyone else does, and that's the way he wants it."

Willie lost his legs when a train ran over him in 1994 while he was playing with his cousins in Birmingham, Ala.

Phillips said he was concerned about Willie's safety when the boy, who stands about 3 feet tall on the field, tried out for the school's combined seventh- and eight-grade team.

"But he got an OK from his physical, and I talked with his mom and she was comfortable with him playing," the coach said. "When I stuck in there for his first practice, I knew he could handle himself."

Not only did Willie earn a spot on the team, he quickly moved up from No. 6 on the depth chart at defensive tackle.

Willie's goals are to play in the NFL for his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, and then later to coach. His pursuit of that dream has also inspired those around him.

"He's just got so much heart," said quarterback Paul Johnson. "We see him out there playing hard and it just motivates us all."

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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