The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


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Josie Clayton is finalist for NFL Flag Football Player of the Year

Image courtesy of Josie Clayton
In a Nationals flag football game, Clayton makes a run for the end zone. The Virginia Hurricanes–the team Clayton plays flag football for–made Nationals several times. “I joined them, and I played for the past three years,” Clayton said. ”We’ve gotten to Nationals the past few years. We were finalists, semi-finalists, and then quarter-finalists this year.”

From playing football on the beach with her family to competing nationally in soccer and flag football, junior Josie Clayton has proved to be a remarkable athlete. Because of the skill level she now plays in her sports, Clayton has been recognized as a finalist for the National Football League (NFL) Flag Players of the Year award.

Clayton was introduced to sports through casual play with her family at the beach and then went on to join various youth leagues in flag football, basketball, and soccer.

“I started playing football with my uncle and cousin at the beach, and we would play whenever we went on vacations,” Clayton said. “I started playing soccer and basketball pretty young and I had a teammate who joined the league near us. Her dad was coaching, and so I was [put] on a team with her [and] a bunch of boys.” 

Clayton’s transition into competitive play began after her move to Arlington. There, she was recognized by her current coach, Mike Rivera, and invited to come play for the Virginia Hurricanes.

“I played one year in Arlington when I moved there, and then the coach of my team now—the Virginia Hurricanes—saw [me play and] told me to come and try out,” Clayton said.

Being on the Hurricanes allowed Clayton to have experiences such as forming communities with players who came from a variety of backgrounds and traveling around the country to compete.

“[Flag football] has given me many opportunities. I was able to go to Vegas twice to play for Nationals there. Recently, we went to Florida, and seeing different girls that play [other sports] has enabled me to meet a bunch of new people,” Clayton said, “which is something that not a lot of people get to experience because of a [lack] of opportunity in most areas.”

Flag football isn’t the only sport Clayton has found success in. She keeps busy during other seasons playing varsity basketball for Jefferson, and national soccer tournaments through the Elite Clubs National League.

“I play ECNL [Elite Clubs National League] soccer, which is a high-level soccer league, so we play through fall, winter, and spring. Basketball season’s in the winter, so I play high school basketball then, and I play high school soccer in the spring,” Clayton said.

Each sport has its highlights, and memories of the finals in the team’s tournaments were some of Clayton’s favorite moments of being an athlete.

“It’s those tough games when we’re playing in the finals and the semi-finals. When I’m playing with my team and we have that amazing play, everybody’s going crazy,” Clayton said. “When everybody cheers, it’s intense, but it’s also really fun. Even when we end up losing, I think the team is connected and we have a lot of fun playing with each other.”

Being involved in athletics has the challenges of being in a STEM school. 

“It’s tough. I’m a procrastinator, so it makes it a lot harder. Getting work done early and scheduling things out when I have time [helps]. It’s especially hard [during] basketball season since I have basketball practice and soccer practice [back to back],” Clayton said. “I don’t have as much time as other kids, but I think that playing all these sports is something I love to do. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”

Clayton already has goals set for the rest of high school, and she plans to play soccer in college and pursue flag football, as well.

“Right now, I’d like to play soccer in college if I can. In terms of playing football, I’m going to play next year, and hopefully we’ll go to Nationals again,” Clayton said. “We just saw that flag football has become an Olympic sport for 2028 in [Los Angeles]. If I end up being able to make it on the national team and play at the Olympics, that would be the ultimate goal.”

To younger athletes who aspire to achieve similar feats, Clayton advises to join flag leagues near you, and even create your own team once 

“Flag football is only growing. A couple [of] years ago, I didn’t even know flag football was a sport,” Clayton said. “Join a flag league near you, even if you don’t want to make it to the Olympics. Find or create a team. Even your dad can be the coach. Then play for fun with your friends and you’ll find it’s a really easy and fun sport to pick up and learn.” 

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