USA Football emphasizes the importance of football for all and actively supports and participates in the creation of pathways for more people to participate in the sport. In the coming months, USA Football will highlight and share the experiences of exceptional members of the football community who have expanded the sport’s scope through their play.
Wide receiver Madison Fulford began playing flag football in January of 2022 in an intramural league on an U.S. Air Force base in Virginia. Less than 20 months later, she and her teammates on USA Football’s U.S. Women’s Flag National Team were receiving gold medals as they were crowned the best squad in North and South America.
Fulford emerged as a superstar during the IFAF Americas Continental Flag Football Championship in Charlotte, N.C. She made 33 receptions for 578 yards and 14 touchdowns, including all four scores in the gold medal game against Mexico. The U.S. National Team defended its spot as the top team in the world, defeating Mexico 26-21.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know how good my performance was until someone had told me that stat later in the day,” Fulford said. “I knew Vanita [Krouch] and I had an insane connection that whole tournament, but seeing the numbers was awesome. It takes a lot of trust for a quarterback to throw into double coverage, or to target you on fourth down or even on a crucial two-point conversation. You would never guess that was our first tournament playing together. She made my job easy. The support from the sidelines and my teammates was more meaningful to me than the stats. They are like family.”
The gold medal game against Mexico took place in front of an international crowd of approximately 1,000 spectators, including other national teams and coaches, media members and locals who heard about the exciting event. Fulford had many fans in the stands since she grew up locally, attending Jay M Robinson High School.
“Not only did I get to play in front of so many friends and family, but I created a bond with the team to the point where, even though our friends and family were there, we really just wanted to spend time with each other right after the finals,” Fulford said. “It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I absolutely love those girls.”
Fulford also had the opportunity to meet her favorite player, Carolina Panthers legend Steve Smith Sr.
“Getting to meet Steve Smith was incredible,” said Fulford. “He is so kind, and I was thrilled to see him coming out to support flag and cheering for us on the sideline.”
Smith was one of several former NFL players in attendance to support the event. Former Panthers Pro Bowlers Mike Rucker and Mike Tolbert, current Panther Jeremy Chinn and NFL Global Flag Football Ambassador Torry Holt also made appearances.
In the months following the U.S. National Team’s gold medal success, USA Football presented Fulford with opportunities to travel to Los Angeles and Charlotte to meet with the next generation of girls’ flag football players.
Fulford was one of several athlete representatives at the National Team West Coast Talent ID Camp in Los Angeles hosted by USA Football and the Los Angeles Rams to help national team coaches identify rising talent among junior competitors in the local area. She also attended the Panthers’ preseason game against the New York Jets alongside U.S. National Team defensive back Amber Clark.
Fulford served as an honorary captain for an exhibition game between local Charlotte-Mecklenburg School girls’ flag football teams during halftime of the preseason game. She also had the opportunity to see Steve Smith Sr. again and meet four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
“USA Football has given me the opportunity to mentor and meet so many talented girls, and I am beyond thankful for that,” Fulford said. “Through them, I’ve discovered a new passion for teaching and coaching, and I’ve started my own camp series because I want girls to have more women they can turn to for training. It’s all about representation.”
In less than two years, Fulford has gone from playing intramural flag football to being one of the game’s most notable representatives and a symbol for aspiring athletes. She offered words of encouragement for anyone considering playing the game.
“For those who are apprehensive about football, at least give it a chance,” Fulford encouraged. “It’s better to live life knowing you tried rather than to grow up and be like me where I’m 28 and just getting started. My parents wouldn’t let me play growing up, and now I am on the greatest team in the world because I didn’t let anything get in my way.”