High School Sports

Hollywood Hills’ Holly Neher becomes first female starting quarterback in Florida

Hollywood Hills quarterback Holly Neher, 16, became the first female starting quarterback in Broward County and likely the state of Florida on Friday.
Hollywood Hills quarterback Holly Neher, 16, became the first female starting quarterback in Broward County and likely the state of Florida on Friday. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Holly Neher’s perseverance has helped her overcome the biggest challenges in her life.

It helped her when she stepped up to help her mother, Paula, through her fight with breast cancer when Neher was only 7 years old.

And it since helped her earn a spot among the boys on the varsity football team at Hollywood Hills.

Neher made history on Friday night, becoming the first female quarterback to start a high school football game in the state of Florida during Hollywood Hills’ 51-27 victory over Pompano Beach at Cooper City High School.

"It was amazing and I just felt so happy to have an opportunity to go out there and play and then get to throw a touchdown pass and celebrate with my teammates," Neher said.

Neher, who made national headlines three weeks ago when she played in her first varsity game and threw a 42-yard touchdown pass, threw another one on her first pass Friday.

And actually, she threw two.

But the screen pass she threw on the game’s first play to receiver Alexander Shelton that he took 85 yards to the end zone was nullified by a penalty.

Again, Neher showed perseverance.

A few plays later, Neher found Shelton on a similar pass and this time he again navigated his way through the Pompano defense to complete a 67-yard touchdown connection and give the Spartans an early 7-0 lead.

This one counted.

Neher said she didn’t even know she’d get to start until right after the opening coin toss when Hills coach Brandon Graham told her.

"I was a little nervous but my teammates just told me ‘Holly, we know you can do it," Neher said. "They just told me ‘We’ve seen you throw a touchdown before on this play and we’ve got your back.’ That gave me confidence."

Paula said her daughter fell asleep holding her playbook after hours of studying that as well as doing homework the night before the game.

"Holly’s one of a kind," Paula Neher said. "She’s been an inspiration to her sister and now she and maybe other girls out there will start to believe and I think ‘I can do it.’ I think she’s going to bring very positive things to this world."

Neher went on to complete five passes and threw for over 120 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Neher played the first couple of series in the game and said she never got hit by a defender.

“My offensive line was amazing and they protected me the whole time,” Neher said. “What was amazing was players from the other team after were telling me ‘Congratulations, you made history.’”

Neher, who has started at quarterback on Hills’ flag football team the last two years, was the second-string quarterback entering fall practices.

Other girls have played football in South Florida in recent years such as South Plantation’s Erin DiMeglio, who saw action in 2012 and became the first to play in a game in Florida following in the footsteps of other pioneers such as Samantha "Sami" Grisafe, who was the first to play quarterback in a varsity game in California in 2000.

Neher’s mother watched proudly as her daughter, who has been featured this month by multiple national media outlets including USA Today, Good Morning America and ESPN, lived out hers and many other girls’ dreams of being a starting quarterback.

Paula said that her daughter recently received a jacket from the Ellen DeGeneres Show, a gift she wore proudly around school the following day.

Holly said she doesn’t know yet if she will start again on Thursday when Hills takes on West Broward at 7 p.m. at Cooper City in its next regular season game.

“I probably won’t know until the coin toss just like this last game,” Neher said.