Tampa Bay’s talent on display at USA Football camp

Tampa Bay’s talent on display at USA Football camp

TAMPA, Fla. — It wasn’t always like this.

Girls trying out for the U.S. National Team, playing on the same field where NFL players run the same drills.

“When we were first starting, everyone was just trying to figure it out,” Robinson High head coach Joshua Saunders. “And then it’s exploded.”

What You Need To Know

  •  USA Football conducted a talent camp looking for players to fill their U.S. National Team rosters.
  •  More than 300 flag football players ran through drills in the Tampa Bay Bucs training facility.
  •  Players will find out at the end of the month if they made the team.

Those who dreamed big could have never imagined more than 300 youngsters running through football drills in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility. When flag football first started in the Bay Area, it was a club activity. Saunders, who is also one of the U.S National Team coaches, remembers the salad days.

“Nobody knew what we were doing, that was the biggest deal,” he said. “It wasn’t just coaches that didn’t know what they were doing. Girls growing up, they just never had opportunities.”

What a difference two decades makes. In that time, flag football has become one of the fastest growing sports in the nation. What was once a club sport, now produces state champions and college scholarship opportunities. Just how far has flag football come? These girls running around the Bucs indoor facility have a shot at wearing the red, white and blue in the Olympics.

“The pool of women who can play this game and play it at a high level, it’s really exciting for us to put this team together,” USA Football Managing Director Eric Mayes said.

That’s what USA Football is doing with these talent camps, trying to find the best of the best. They ran the girls through the paces, combine-like drills, looking for speed, strong arms, good hands and overall athleticism. That Tampa was one of their stops is no coincidence. The Bay Area has been at the forefront of flag football’s growth, thanks to the backing of the Bucs. That support is integral to the sport’s future. And it’s played a part in selecting the national team.

“I have the USA across my chest,” Mayes said. “Putting that across your chest means something more than any of us. And we want to make sure we pick the athletes to represent us moving forward.”

There was a lot of camaraderie. And a sense that this something bigger than the sport. And of course there were awards. End of the camp recognition for a job well done. And in fews weeks, those who made the U.S. National Team will be contacted.

“One of the coolest parts of this event is seeing the excitement of these athletes knowing there’s something else,” said Matt Hernandez, Alonso head coach and U.S. National Team coach. “For so long there never was anything else. Now there’s something else.”

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