Erika Clark Kicks Her Way into Florida High School Football History – On the Boys' Team
High school football kicker Erika Clark made history earlier this month when she became the first girl to ever be named to a boys’ Class 4A All-State team in Florida.
The 17-year-old senior at the Bolles School, a private prep school in Jacksonville, Florida, first went out for the boys’ team as a freshman after playing soccer growing up. She saw a kicker working out and thought, “I can do better than that.”
Turns out, she was right. This past season, Clark missed just two extra point attempts, hitting 57 of 59, and going five for five on field goals, scoring a total of 72 points last fall. That success is likely another first in the Sunshine State, says a spokesman for the Florida High School Athletic Association. She’s also hit a 46-yard field goal in practice and a 30-yarder in a game.
Her story is one of fearless determination – but Clark isn’t one to brag. At 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds, she wears all the same football gear the guys do, and she occasionally gets hit, something she downplays. “I guess there is some sense of bravery but I didn’t feel that brave doing it,” she tells PEOPLE. “To me, it’s just another sport.”
Clark admits it was “awkward” that first day she walked onto the field. But four years later, she is well-known at her private high school as “the football player,” her strawberry blonde ponytail giving up her secret on the field as it bounces outside her helmet. She’s also become a role model for younger girls in her community who stop her to share that they’re now playing Pee Wee football because of her.
“It’s very rare to have a girl playing,” head coach Corky Rogers tells PEOPLE. “We’ve had a few girls come out for football and they might have stayed for a couple of weeks.”
“We have a very strenuous program we go through here and she did everything and never complained,” adds Rogers, who has been named one of the top winningest high school football coaches in the nation. “She had the respect of not only us as coaches but also our players.”
“To get the respect, it’s not easy with girls playing a primarily man’s sport. You don’t get that just because you are girl standing out there. She proved herself with hard work, sacrifice, determination – giving up a lot of fun things that a lot of girls her age might have been doing.”
Her teammate and holder Bryce Newman, 18, praises Clark’s moxie. Guys on the team not only count on her skill but are protective on the field and off, he tells PEOPLE.
“She likes for us to treat her like every other girl on campus. But she’s always been a part of the brotherhood of the football team,” Newman says. “We take offense of people trying to hit her extra hard.”
Not that Clark couldn’t take it.
“I have respect for her stepping out of her comfort zone, doing things that people said she shouldn’t or couldn’t do,” Newman adds. “She proved them wrong. I’m glad our team got to experience it firsthand. I think it was something most players enjoyed.”
The active Clark, who loves bow hunting, New York City, the mountains, and country music, says she’s taking the lessons she’s learned on the football field and putting them to good use.
“I think it will help me a lot in life,” Clark says. “It gives me confidence and showed me in a leadership role. Our coaches, they always want us to be on time, to finish a drill. That kind of applies to life – be on time, finish the job, do it well, work hard. I’ll definitely carry that over.”