Stella Hang shows off some confetti from her seat as the Kansas City Chiefs players celebrate their 31-20 Super Bowl win against the San Franciso 49ers. Courtesy / Hang family

PORTLAND — The  New England Patriots didn’t have the opportunity to run out onto the field at the Super Bowl LIV in Miami last weekend, but one of their biggest fans did.

Stella Hang, a 12-year-old student at Lyman Moore Middle School, was chosen from a field of 18,000 to be the New England Patriots’ representative in the NFL’s Next 100 contest, which sought to honor the very best in youth football.

Stella Hang has been able to bond with her father over their shared love of flag football. That love earned Hang a trip to last weekend’s Super Bowl. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“I didn’t believe it at first. I had to read the email again to see if it was true,” she said. “I was happy crying. It was the first time I had ever happy cried.”

Stella, a Patriots fan, plays quarterback for an all-girls flag football team in the Portland Youth Football League.

As one of the 32 grand prize winners – one from each of the NFL’s fan bases – she received two tickets to the big game and ran out onto the field with the other winners as part of a Super Bowl commercial promoting the league.

Her mother, Stacey Hang, who attended the game with Stella, was watching from the stands as Stella, wearing a Tom Brady jersey, and the other kids made their energetic entrance.

“I was sitting in the stands shaking with excitement to see what she was going to do. The energy in the stadium was so wild. Family and friends back home were blowing up my phone when they saw her,” she said.

“It is just so amazing to see your child be a part of something this huge and have it be part of something they love,” added Hang, a school nurse at Yarmouth High School.

The commercial, which aired just prior to kickoff, starred 2017 Sports Illustrated SportsKid of the Year Maxwell “Bunchie” Young as he runs across the country to the Super Bowl. He cuts through San Francisco, Illinois, New York and New Orleans, cheered on by current and former NFL stars along the way. When he gets to Miami he is joined by the NFL Next 100 kids as he runs through the Hard Rock Stadium tunnel onto the field.

Stella Hang, right, has been playing flag football for four years. Courtesy / Hang family

Stella said her favorite part was waiting in the tunnel and getting pumped to run on to the field. While only she and her mother had tickets to the game, her whole family made the trip to Miami, and earlier she and her older brother, Myles, were able to meet NFL players, including Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Stella was selected as one of the 32 winners ages 9-12 after her parents responded to an open NFL casting call in the fall and submitted a highlight reel of her playing flag football.

“Stella is a really special kid,” middle school principal Ben Donaldson said at a surprise event at her school Jan. 22, when New England Patriots cheerleaders and Pat the Patriot mascot officially announced the honor and gave her a signed jersey from former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. “She’s an awesome athlete. She’s an awesome student. To have her win this kind of an award is a really great honor for her and our school community.”

Although she has also played lacrosse, softball, basketball and soccer, football is Stella’s favorite sport. A quarterback, Stella finished last season with 18 rushing touchdowns and 24 passing touchdowns on her all-girls flag football team, part of the Portland Youth Football League.

“There is a lot of pressure, but I know what the routes are going to be. Being a quarterback you can control what happens on the field,” Stella said.

Stella’s father, Mony Hang, said football, particularly flag football, has been a way for him to connect with his children.

Stella started playing football four years ago when Mony Hang started an all-girls team through the Portland Youth Football.

“Flag football is a sport for all kids to participate and participate equally on the field,” he said. “I saw it as something fun for the girls to play. I thought more girls should be able to play,” he said.

For three years, the girls’ team competed against teams made up of boys, but now, with 50 players, there is an all-girls league.

2017 Sports Illustrated Sports Kid Maxwell Young leads the NFL’s Next 100 award winners, including Portland’s Stella Hang, back left. onto the Super Bowl LIV field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Sunday. NFL Video

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