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.
This past July, U.S. Women’s Flag National Team defensive back Amber Clark broke onto the national stage at the 2023 IFAF Americas Continental Flag Football Championship in Charlotte. A little over a year after just missing the cut for the 2022 active roster because of an injury, Clark intercepted six passes and successfully defended 18 others as the National Team went 6-0 and claimed gold against the best opponents from North and South America.
“All I could think about was one game at a time,” said Clark. “Being new to safety, I went into the tournament doubting myself. Also, we had a lot of pressure on us being that it was a brand new team, and not a lot of us had experience on the highest stage. I think as the tournament went on, we became very comfortable playing together, and our chemistry definitely shined through.”
Clark grew up in Greenville, N.C. and attended South Central High School, where she played basketball, volleyball, and ran track and field. She won North Carolina 3A State Championships in track and basketball before competing in the long and triple jump at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“My athletic background has helped me tremendously,” Clark said. “From my speed to my agility, I believe it has been a great contributor to my game. I was a point guard in basketball, so my quickness and decision making had to be at a high level. When it came to track, I was a sprinter and jumper, so that helps with my speed, explosiveness and vertical.”
Clark has always loved the game of football, but she wasn’t allowed to play growing up. She began playing tackle football in 2016 before finding her way to flag football in 2020. This year was Clark’s third attempt to earn a spot on the U.S. National Team. She came close in 2022, but an MCL injury prevented her from securing an active spot on the roster for The World Games 2022.
“I tried out for the U.S. National Team initially in 2021 when they had an event in Indianapolis. I didn’t make the international team that year, but I was invited to Chula Vista to compete for my spot. Unfortunately, I tore my MCL a few weeks before, so I ended up being an alternate for the 2022 team,” said Clark. “This year, I tried out again and made the team! The process was tough and taxing. I felt defeated and began to have cases of imposter syndrome the two years I did not make the team, but I wasn't going to quit or give up on my dreams. I wanted this for a long time, and I couldn't let a couple no’s stop me from finally getting my yes.”
That “yes” came at a great time for the U.S. National Team. Clark had family and friends in attendance as the U.S. topped Mexico 26-21 in the gold medal match. As the minutes ticked down and the team fought to protect their lead, Clark made one of the game’s biggest plays by intercepting Mexico quarterback Diana Flores.
“The first thought was, ‘I can't believe I'm really about to get this interception,’ and my next thought was, ‘I really think I can make this a pick six,”’ Clark said. “Then I threw the ball down and immediately thought, ‘Oh no! I'm about to get a flag.’ Then I realized that we were still about to win the game. So, it was a host of emotions, but there’s nothing like that final feeling of relief that all of our hard work was finally paying off.”
After winning a gold medal in July, Clark, who is the head coach of the women’s flag football program at The University of Saint Mary, had several chances to connect with the next generation of flag football players. She was an athlete representative 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 girls competing in the local area.
“Those experiences have been so rewarding and fulfilling. To be able to be a model for these young girls is a prize like no other. Especially when I did not have that growing up,” Clark said. “I want them to know that there are higher levels to this game and that there are tons of opportunities for girls to play football. I hope to have many more of these experiences and continue to be an advocate for this game.”
Clark also attended the Panthers’ home preseason game against the New York Jets alongside U.S. National Team wide receiver Madison Fulford. They served as honorary captains for an exhibition game between local Charlotte-Mecklenburg School girls’ flag football teams and had the chance to meet Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Never in a million years did I think I would play, coach or meet people I’ve watched on TV for years,” said Clark. “I’m forever grateful for the places and spaces that football has afforded me, and I plan to give back to this game just as much as it gave me.”
Clark offered some final advice to football fans considering getting involved with the sport.
“Honestly, just play. As cliche as that might sound, it's the only way to know if you really love this game,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to fail or mess up, just go out there and be the best you. Football for women has elevated in ways I never thought possible, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. So find a local team, find some friends and just go out there and enjoy this amazing game.”