Courtney Brown’s classmates say she is the most athletic girl at Stanton College Prep.
The senior’s exploits in flag football are a large reason why she earned the superlative. The aspiring lawyer, who will graduate magna cum laude from one of Florida’s best high schools, is the type of person the Jacksonville Jaguars look to recognize this spring through their Dream Big Scholarship.
Brown played soccer growing up but added flag football — alongside her activity in multiple on-campus clubs — in high school. She was exposed to flag football during a powder puff game while she attended Kernan Middle School.
“I heard they have a team here in high school,” Brown recalled this week. “We get to play other schools this time. I said ‘Let me see how that is.’ There is so much more recognition. I hear talk of (flag football) being in the Olympics. It’s really opened my eyes. It’s a woman-led sport, so its interesting to see where it’s gone.”
The Jaguars celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day this week by announcing the Dream Big Scholarship. The Jaguars will award $3,000 apiece to three flag or tackle football players who are graduating from a Florida high school and plan to enroll as full-time students this fall.
Flag football interest is surging. Every public high school in Duval County fields a flag football team. In September, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported girls flag football saw a 32% increase in participation to 20,875 players nationwide.
“It’s one of the most fun sports here on campus,” Brown said. “Just the environment, you need little to no experience to play. And, if you know American football, it easily translates into this. It’s really fun to learn. It’s fun to play.”
Florida is one of seven states that sponsored flag football state championships in the 2022-23 academic year. There are more varsity flag football teams (361) and players (9,066) than anywhere in America.
The 2023 championships were awarded at Mandarin High School. Fleming Island High School fell in the Class 2A championship to Tampa Alonso.
Mandarin head coach Mike Brown is credited as someone who has helped the sport expand rapidly here because he fosters ways for students to receive year-round training.
“He has tournaments that he’s invited all of Duval to come see,” Stanton flag football coach Clifton Collins said of Brown. “He was with the Jacksonville Jaguars when they went over to Las Vegas last year (at the NFL FLAG Championships). … He’s really giving an opportunity for (female) athletes to participate in flag football, not just during the season.”
Collins has coached flag football in Duval County since 2011. Last year, he coached Brown and the Blue Devils to a 17-3 record.
Next week, Stanton will participate in the Jaguars’ annual preseason tournament.
“As the popularity of girls’ flag football gains steam in the state of Florida and throughout our country, ‘girl power’ is more than a tagline as these athletes are proving that they can ‘dream big’ to reach their goals,” Whitney Meyer, the Jaguars’ senior vice president and chief community impact officer, said in a written statement.
Brown’s teammate last year, Aneesha Mummareddy, earned the scholarship last year and is currently enrolled at the University of Florida.
“To get rewarded for something you love to do is unbelievable,” Brown said. “To see her do that it’s ‘Wow, I can do the same.’ And, I hope that’s the same for other girls just like me.”
Brown hasn’t decided whether she will apply for the scholarship. But, she might be a prime candidate to receive it. She is a two-sport star who sports a 4.5 weighted grade point average.
Brown says she would like to be an attorney and has her sights set on Florida State, Howard or Florida next year.
Joshua Wilson, founder and publisher of FloridaHSFootball.com, says the Jaguars’ vice president of football development, Adriel Rocha, deserves credit for connecting the franchise with youth football players.
“It means so much,” Brown said of the Jaguars’ investment and interest in flag football. “You never think ‘Oh, where can I go with this?’ When you have a national team like that, it validates your feelings toward the sport. It’s important. Not only is it fun for me, but it’s making a difference. It’s growing and you’re growing with it.”
Whether Brown participates in next week’s exhibition is unknown. She is a center forward for the Stanton soccer team that is in the state playoffs.
Brown says the growth of flag football is in part because players are encouraged to play other youth sports as well. This year’s Blue Devils have basketball players and members of the dance team.
“It centers on different abilities that you have and you can translate into a whole other sport,” Brown said. “It’s a combination of different talents, and it makes for a diverse team with a lot of depth.”
Wilson said the Jaguars All-Prep team that recognizes the top tackle football and flag football players in their market is not something he sees from other franchises in the state.
“I’m glad that the Jaguars have finally put a bigger focus on what’s happening in high school football, girls flag football and youth football,” Wilson said. “That has been a huge thing for a lot of teams in the Jaguars’ market. (I know these) teams appreciate being able to interact with the NFL team in their backyard.”
Girls flag football will only continue to grow here.
“What you’re seeing in Northeast Florida is you’re seeing schools that are playing catch-up compared to other areas in the state,” Wilson said.
This year, the FHSAA doubled the number of districts and regions in its state playoffs in order to accommodate the number of teams that are now sanctioned in the sport. There will be 128 teams that qualify for the postseason this year, up from the 64 schools that qualified in 2023.
Girls flag football started as a club sport in the late ’90s in South Florida. Wilson said large school districts embraced flag football, but it has now grown into suburban counties and smaller metros. Schools like Yulee and Fernandina Beach are expanding beyond Nassau County and make themselves eligible for the FHSAA playoffs.
Bartram Trail, a school that has won multiple state championships in multiple girls team sports, will field a flag football team this year. They undoubtedly will be well-coached. Longtime varsity football coach Darrell Sutherland is going to be on the flag football staff.
Wilson hopes that other St. Johns County schools will add flag football quickly in the years to come. The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind — as was the case in tackle football — was the first to field a flag football team in St. Johns County.
“Some schools, they are nervous because they don’t want to take away from softball,” Wilson said. “Give your students a choice. Don’t put them into a hole of saying ‘These are the sports and these are the only choices you have.’ If you don’t have the support, say ‘OK.’ But, until you offer it as an option, you will never know.”
For Brown, the growth of the sport has been unbelievable.
“People do come up to me a lot and they ask me about it: ‘Oh, how’s the team,’” Brown said. “Because of how good we’ve become in the last couple years, it makes a lot of people curious about it — and that’s the goal, honestly.”
Lead image: Courtney Brown is a senior flag football player at Stanton College Prep who was named “most athletic” by her peers in the senior class. She plays flag football and soccer for the Blue Devils. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today