Twenty-four flag football teams arrived at TIAA Bank Field on a bright and sunny Friday morning to prepare for a day of action on the field and not one of them had a single boy in uniform.
The 2022 Flag Football Preseason Classic was all about the girls and featured some of the best flag football players across north Florida. The Jaguars PREP program hosted the day as a chance to bring the best girls flag football teams together and to highlight the growth that girls flag football is seeing at high schools across the area.
"It means a lot to us," explained Ed White quarterback Endia Maxwell who was also on the field a week ago at the Quarterback Skills Challenge at TIAA Bank Field. "This is a girls sport, and most people look at girls sports as they're not as competitive as a guys sport. It means a lot to have a girls sport endorsed by the Jaguars and the NFL."
Clay High's Dakota Hills was the female MVP of the Quarterback Skills Challenge and was excited to lead her team out onto a field she now views as her own. It didn't take much to convince anyone listening that her confidence has been bolstered by the opportunities that Jaguars PREP has offered the last few weeks.
"Just getting out here on this field again and getting a chance to be out here with my teammates this time is really special," she said. "It's really incredible to have this chance and the support from our coaches and from the Jaguars to show what kind of football players we are."
Flag Football is an FSHAA sanctioned sport, and over the last decade, the numbers show growth from Yulee in the north to St. Augustine down south and all across the region. Size and strength separate the girls' game from the boys but the coaches on-site didn't want to go much further than that in differentiating the game.
"The girls are just so focused on every little thing that you tell them," offered Clay High coach and Athletic Director Jared Moses. "They're just amazing to coach because whether it's catching the football or hand placement to make sure they get the flag they absorb everything you teach them. They want to be good at it and that makes it so much fun to work with them."
Women are taking more prominent positions in football both in the coaching and personnel departments and across the business side of the game. The girls who took the field for the Preseason Classic now can see tangible proof of a future in the sport whether that's a college scholarship or perhaps a job in the big leagues.
"I think it means the world to them to have the Jaguars be such great supporters," said Ed White head coach Bachir Saoud. "The Jaguars organization does so much for girls and for boys too, they really support our game and it's amazing to have as many opportunities as we do. I know the girls appreciate what the Jaguars do.
The Jaguars were overwhelmed by the interest in the Preseason Classic, reaching out across the area and filling all 24 team slots in a matter of days. The energy level was palatable as the teams warmed up, some teams were going to get the chance to test themselves against other teams that they wouldn't normally play and that created an excitement and a chance to see exactly where they're at as the regular season approaches.
"Today is a great example of what we're trying to do, to help the game grow," explained Adriel Rocha who is the Director of the Jaguars Foundation and who leads the Jaguars PREP initiative. "We're trying to create more impactful programming. Looking around and seeing so many quarterbacks who were here last week and then getting the chance to get their feedback is so valuable to us. They're all excited to be here and we're excited to see them grow and get more confidence in themselves and their teams."
Hills summed up the feeling just before the Blue Devils took the field. "I'm game to play against a boys team," she offered with a smile. "I'd like to see how we do." Her confidence was bolstered by the belief of her teammates and coaches and the Jaguars PREP program.
Over 500 athletes showed up at TIAA Bank Field to compete and showcase their talents for the Jaguars 2022 Girls Flag Football Preseason Classic. In addition to these talented athletes, a few Jaguars took to the field to motivate, support and share their own experiences; big thanks to defensive end Josh Allen, wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., and defensive end Jordan Smith.