"I like playing defense better. The rush when you get a pick, it's the best thing ever."
Sound familiar Jaguars fans? That could be a quote from Pro Bowl cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, but on this Saturday that swagger comes from Leah Plante, a senior at Clay High School.
Plante and her teammate Abby Hawkins were two of more than 200 area high school student athletes participating in the Jaguars Girls Flag Football Jamboree. Hosted by the Jaguars Foundation, the annual event took place for the first time at the team's indoor practice facility, the Dream Finders Homes Flex Field at Daily's Place.
"I've been in love with the sport since I was a little kid," said wide receiver Hawkins. "I watch it every year with my family. It's a big deal to us. Now that I get the chance to play, and especially here at this place, it's really special."
The girls flag event is part of the Jaguars Foundation's ongoing youth football programming sponsored by Wolfson Children's Hospital, Dairy Council of Florida and Gatorade. Certified athletic trainers were also provided by the Jacksonville Sports Medicine program. The event serves as the annual kickoff to high school flag football, a sport celebrating its 20th season in Duval County.
"When we started this sport it was a one month season in May," said Tammie Talley, athletic director for Duval County Public Schools. "Now flag football is a sanctioned state series sport with a state championship."
A former college and rec league flag football player herself, Talley understands the benefits of organized sports in the lives of student athletes.
"I think it really helps the kids with time management. It teaches them teamwork, character, how to be respectful to officials and your opponent, how to win and lose with dignity. Being an athlete makes them a better student. It's the best drop out prevent program that we have."
The benefits of flag football extend beyond just the students.
"They make me happy," said Nate Brown, head coach for the Oakleaf High School girls flag football team. "If I'm having a long day at work, when I get to practice they are already cracking some jokes. I get to teach, coach the fundamentals and still have fun at the same time."
The Jaguars Foundation hosted the jamboree in the Dream Finders Homes Flex Field at Daily's Place. The 94,000-square-foot building opened less than one year ago and has since served as the indoor practice facility for the team. The state-of-the-art facility features a regulation size field surrounded by 20 feet of auxiliary space and an artificial playing surface.
"Having an NFL team in your city and having somebody like the Jaguars want to do something with youth football that is girl related is special," said Talley. "I wish someone could have been here when these girls walked in into the flex field. They are happy to play anywhere, but that the Jaguars felt vested enough in them to open this facility and put on this event, they were just in awe."
The Jaguars Foundation is actively involved in youth football throughout the year. In addition to the girls flag tournament, the Foundation hosts a boys 7-on-7 passing challenge in June and a coaches clinic in the spring. The Jaguars currently support nine NFL Flag leagues powered by USA Football. For more information about the Jaguars Foundation and Youth Football, click here.
Jaguars Foundation Hosts 200 High School Student Athletes for kickoff to flag football season.