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“Flag Football has no Ceiling": Ashlea Klam on her journey to the Women’s U.S. National Team

Klam ready to carry flag football's Olympic torch
Ashlea Klam reflects on the obstacles she overcame to earn a flag football scholarship at Keiser University and looks ahead to the sport's arrival on the big stage at the 2028 Summer Olympics.

With 20 million players in over a hundred countries, flag football has become one of the world’s fastest growing sports. Young girls and women, like 19-year-old Ashlea Klam from Austin, Texas, have been a catalyst in its rapid growth.

In the U.S. alone, almost half a million girls between the ages of 6 to 17 play some form of organized flag football and in return, the sport has created so many visible pathways and role models for women. One of those pathways now leads to the biggest stage in sports: The Olympic Games. This past October, the IOC announced that flag football would be one of five sports added to the program for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

The future of flag football looks bright, but that wasn’t always the case. Klam, 19, now the youngest member of the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team, spoke with NBC Sports and SportsEngine about her days of playing as the only girl on an all-boys team just to have an opportunity to pursue the sport she loved.

Klam is currently a freshman at Keiser University in Florida, where she received a scholarship to play on the flag football team. The Texas native discusses the sport’s growth, the power of team Texas Fury, and what LA 2028 means for the future of flag football.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Do you remember the moment that you fell in love with flag football? When you saw the sport and were just like, man. I have to play. Take me back to that day. How old were you and what do you remember feeling?

Ashlea Klam: I started playing when I was seven years old. The main reason why I really wanted to play was because of my brother Peyton. He has always been such a [good] role model to me. When I saw him start playing flag football at a rec league, I knew that I wanted to play that. I remember watching him and there were no girls out there so I turned to my mom and asked “Why are there no girls on here? I want to play this sport. Can I play this sport?”

I’d go out [to the field] every single halftime of their game, throw the football around with my dad or my mom, and I just absolutely loved it. My parents put me on a flag football team. It was a co-ed league but I was really one of maybe three other girls who wanted to play as well. Ever since then, I absolutely loved it and I continue to play and gain more love for the sport every single second of the day.

Ashlea Klam young.JPG

You mentioned playing on co-ed teams when you first started but there were times when you were the only girl on the team. What was that experience like?

Klam: It gave me more confidence, especially knowing that my team had my back. I was a part of an all-boys team and every single play of the game, my coach would always do a hand-off to me. Majority of the time I would score and I mainly wanted to shut up people who did not think that I was good enough to play since I was a girl. Flag football is a male dominated sport so knowing that I could step out there and make them be like, “Wow, who is that? Why is she so good?” That always made me feel so amazing.

Knowing that the other boys on my team, my coaches, and the parents always cheered me on no matter was my favorite thing. Every single time we’d go against another opponent with an all-boys team, we would always hear “Oh my gosh, they have a girl in their team. This is going to be so easy.” And that would always hurt me.

Why is it that just because I’m a girl...why does that make any difference between any of the other guys on my team?

Did you ever feel intimidated or alone being the only girl? How did you deal with it?

Klam: I’m a very communicative person, especially on the field, I’m a really big leader. To be a leader you have to have confidence in yourself and your team. Knowing that I am out there and I am either just as good or better than the other boys, always made me feel confident in myself.

Something that I still do to this day every time I step on the football field is, I tell myself, “You are one of the best players out there. You need to act like it and you need to have the confidence that you are.” It’s not being cocky but it’s being confident. I think that every player needs to have confidence in in themselves so that other people can have confidence in them.

I love that! Now tell me how the all-girls Texas Fury team came about, and tell me about the meaning behind the team name?

Klam: My parents, Amber and Jason Klam, wanted to create an all-girls flag football team. I played on another team within my rec league. I think it was around 2015, we won our nationals and the coaches went to my dad and my mom and said they wanted to give them the team.

My mom, she was the one who said, “Okay, if we’re getting this team, I want to make a name for ourselves.” Because we would go to all of the NFL Flag tournaments and we would hear about teams like, “Red Zone” or “Tucson Turf"—really big organizations out there where everyone knew their names—teams that people were intimidated by.

My mom always wanted to have a team that people reacted the same way to. She’s the one who really, really put in a lot of effort into making Texas Fury. Of course, my dad also did so much.

I think both of them did an absolutely amazing job at marketing our team and just creating a really good family-type of environment. If you look on our Instagram posts, you’ll see a lot of posts with the hashtag #FuryFam. And that’s just what it is. Texas Fury is a family. There’s no negativity. It’s always positive and always about sisterhood.

We started off with six players. We call ourselves the “Fab Six” and now we have seven teams overall with about 80 players. So just knowing what we’ve had and where we’re headed is amazing.

Ashlea Klam Fury Family 3.JPG


Wow you guys have basically built a flag football dynasty! How special was your time with Texas Fury and what was it like to be part of the franchise’s growth?

Klam: Oh, I’m going get emotional talking about this but being on the Texas Fury team is something that I hope everyone can [experience] in their life. Being on a team that is so loving and knowing that all of your family—your sisters on that team, the parents on that team—always have your back. It’s just something that you you’ll never be able to feel unless you know this team. It’s Fury family.

I’m still part of this organization. I actually coached the 12U Red team our older girls’ 12U team. I’m miles away at Keiser University now in Florida but there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t get a text message from them or that I don’t feel love and support from all of my Fury Fam. From our 10U players all the way up to our 17U Red Team, I am absolutely blessed to have such a big family in my flag world and just knowing that all of them support me, really touches my heart.

Ashlea Klam Fury Family.JPG


Your parents saw your passion for flag football, they saw a void in the sport and when the opportunity came to take over the team, they could have easily said no but they created a space not just for you, but for other girls to play flag football. What does that mean to you?

Klam: Texas is a huge tackle football state. The majority of people in Texas don’t see football as a sport that girls can play. Knowing that there are a ton of girls out there who now know the Texas Fury name and are aware that flag football is something that they can do is absolutely amazing! Knowing that girls now have the actual opportunity to play flag football—a male dominated sport—and they’re absolutely loving it [because of the impact] of Texas Fury is just amazing.

What lessons have you learned from your mom and dad along the way?

Klam: My parents have taught me a lot about patience. Things don’t always go your way in this male dominated sport. Sometimes you get shut down.

[More recently] we were just at the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Texas State meeting to get flag football as a sanctioned sport in all high schools and we got shut down. But that doesn’t mean you just shut down. You get up and you keep on trying. That’s what my parents do. They don’t take no for an answer. They will find other ways, they will do anything for all of these girls, just so we can play flag football. They want the 80 girls on our team to have the opportunity to have colleges look at them. They want them to be able to play at tournaments on a national level and even compete at the Olympics.

Ashlea Klam Family.JPG


Why should people get involved in flag football? What would you say to young girls to encourage them to play?

Klam: Flag football is an amazing recreational sport because it teaches the younger generation the fundamentals. The skills in flag football can translate to volleyball, basketball, soccer just because of how you have to use your muscles, your hips, your arms, just anything. It’s a fantastic recreational sport but now it is so much more than that. It is a college sport. You can play flag football on the national team and now the Olympics.

Flag football is more than just a game... if you want to gain connections, if you want to learn so much more, and have amazing teammates then join flag football. It’s a really safe sport and an amazing time.

Ashlea Klam FF Family.JPG

Eric Torrez - GT Media

I was reading a tribute that you posted on Instagram that read: “I was the only girl then, so no one has to be the only girl now.”

Half a million girls between the ages of 6-17 play some form of organized football. Eight states currently have flag football as a high school varsity sport. When you look back to those days of being the only girl on the team to now, and how much the sport has grown since then, what does that mean to you?

Klam: If I was able to tell my seven-year-old self that I am in college playing flag football on a scholarship, I can’t even imagine what my face would look like.

Hearing the numbers you just said, it is absolutely amazing to know that many girls want to play flag football, and that so many girls take a step out of their comfort zone to be able to play in a male dominated field.

Just being able to play on scholarship in college, being able to have the dream of playing in the Olympics, it’s nothing without all of the girls who say yes to playing flag football. None of this would have happened without the older generations of flag football players, the younger generation, the coaches, the GMs—those are the people who are making these things happen.

Ashlea Klam only girl.JPG


You mentioned being at Keiser University and playing on a scholarship. I know this opportunity didn’t come easy. Obviously, there’s work you have to put in to be a top athlete on the field, but I know that you had to put in a lot of work off the field as well. Can you talk about your social media and how you used that as a tool in the recruitment process?

Klam: Social media is a big thing for colleges. It’s not about how many followers you get or how many posts you make. It’s your interactions with other people... it’s also posting your highlights so that other coaches can see and being able to draw attention to them. How can I make my highlights special? How can I make coaches want to look at mine?

I started using iMovie and uploading videos in slow-mo. Another thing I would do was send my highlights to all the coaches, because why not? I want these people to look at me and I want them to start a conversation. So why don’t I just start the conversation with a little highlight clip of myself?

What has your freshman year been like so far and what are you looking forward to most about the upcoming season?

Klam: I am absolutely loving it! College is so much fun. Our team is fantastic. We have a great program. My favorite thing is being at a college that takes flag football seriously. My Texas high school didn’t even let me sign on their signing day because flag football was not a sanctioned high school sport.

It was never taken seriously at my high school. My teachers didn’t understand why I would have to miss [school] so much. I would have to make up tons of hours because I never was able to get excused absences for going to play at a huge tournament that would help me get college scholarships.

My high school just never really understood that. So now going from a high school that doesn’t understand that to a college that fully understands that and fully supports you is amazing.

I love being able to practice with the team every day. We started our official practices on October 23. We’ve just been able to work really hard together, make connections and I’m just absolutely loving it. I am so, so excited for this season. I think it’s going to be a fantastic season.

My sports management program for my degree is also fantastic so I’m really enjoying Keiser.

Switching gears - I want to talk about the Olympics. In October, the decision to add flag football to the Olympic program for LA 2028 became official, where were you when you found out and what do you remember feeling?

Klam: Well, I was at my house when I found out. I was up in my room and I woke up to a text message that said “Oh my gosh. The Olympics.” I knew that the voting was going on and I was thinking oh my gosh, what is it?

I opened my phone and bam, flag football made it into the Olympics. I remember running downstairs to my parents and just giving them really big hugs because it felt like that’s what we’ve been working for, especially down in Texas.

Just being able to gain popularity for this sport down here—everything that we do, it felt like finally, we are getting recognized! Our sport is getting recognized at the highest level and it was amazing. I mean, I still can’t believe it. I still just get goosebumps when I think about possibly being in the Olympics!

Ashlea Klam USA 4.JPG


Did you grow up watching the Olympics? When you started playing flag football did you ever imagine that the sport would be in the Olympics?

Klam: I did. I love the Winter Olympics, I just thought it was so much more dazzling. Whenever we’d watch, all my family would tell me “That’s going to be you one day. Whatever sport you choose, that’s going to be you.”

When I first started playing at seven years old, I didn’t think it would be a possibility. But even when I got older, I think I was around 15 years old when there was talk about it. My mom and I were on our way back from NFL Flag nationals that year and there was literally no more flag football left for me after that, because at the time NFL Flag only went up to 14U.

I remember someone saying to my mom on the phone “Hey, do not quit football. Keep Ashlea in it because it’s going to be in the Olympics someday.” My mom and I were both like “What are you talking about?”

But now that it’s really’s amazing.

What would it mean to you to have the opportunity to represent Team USA on the world’s biggest stage in LA 2028?

Klam: It would mean everything to me. Absolutely everything! Growing up, it has not always been easy playing flag football, especially with boys and other people who try and take me down for playing that sport. When I was growing up I used to be made fun of because I was a girl playing football and that’s not something that everyone saw in Texas.

So being able to say hey, I proved all of you wrong and I am going to be able to play for my country...I still can’t even believe it. It’s amazing. It’s everything that I’ve wished for and I am going to work harder every single day to get to that spot.

What does the decision to have flag football in the Olympic games mean for your future? What does it mean for the future of the sport?

Klam: There’s going to be so many more young girls and women that want to play flag football. There are so many people that I’ve talked to who have been like “Hey I heard this is going to be in the Olympics, I want to start playing.”

We’re going to see a lot more tournaments and a lot more teams and that is all I’ve ever wanted—an opportunity to see the sport grow.

But for me, it’s also going to mean I’m going to have to work harder every single day—do that one more rep that someone’s not going to do, run that extra 40 that someone’s not going to do.

Ashlea Klam Action 2.JPG


This younger generation of girls can now look at your work ethic and aspire to be where you are. When you were younger were there any flag football players that you looked up to?

Klam: It’s funny to me because this person doesn’t even play my position but Vanita Krouch is someone that I have always looked up to and will continue to [admire]. She’s my quarterback on the U.S. Women’s national team for 2023 and I’m still amazed by every single thing that she does.

Another person is Diana Flores, she was the first women’s quarterback that I ever played with. She just means so much to me because without her, who knows if I would still be playing football. Who knows if I would have had the same experiences I had in my first women’s tournament.

Flag football has a long list of ambassadors who are eager to help grow the game throughout the world. Some of those names include Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson, Stefon Diggs—guys who have large platforms from their success in the NFL. What does it mean to have their support?

Klam: It means everything because without them who knows what stage this sport would be at. Having some of the highest NFL players support flag football, want to watch, or even play flag football in the Pro Bowl shows the U.S. that flag football is a sport that’s rapidly growing.

I was listening to an interview you did two years ago in June 2021, and you listed four goals that you had at the time. I’m going to read them to you: make the 17 U.S. National Team, play college football, make Team USA’s Women’s National Team, see flag football added to the Olympic program and be on the roster for LA 2028.

With the exception of being named to that LA 2028 roster, which won’t happen for quite a while, you’ve accomplished all of those goals. Not only that but you’re the youngest member of the U.S. women’s national flag football team. What does that mean to you?

Klam: Honestly, when you told me that, I knew I’ve always had a ton of goals that I’ve wanted to accomplish but hearing that, [knowing] that was only two years ago, and I’ve accomplished everything except for being on the Olympic roster gave me goosebumps.

Sometimes you get caught up with everything and you don’t really think about the [achievements] that you’ve made. I’m always thinking about the next step. I did this, what can I do now?

So being able to know that I have accomplished those things means everything to me. I could not have done this on my own whatsoever. I did it with the support of all of my coaches, my parents, my brother, all of my teammates—those are the people that have helped me get here. I can’t take all of the credit for myself because they’ve helped me along the way. That’s just something really special for me and I’m beyond grateful for that.

Ashlea Klam USA 3.JPG


What is it like to be playing in a sport where the ceiling is continuously growing—or maybe I should say a sport where there is no ceiling—when you look at all of the progress you’ve made?

Klam: Being able to continuously set and accomplish more goals is everything that I’ve ever hoped and wished for [in the sport]. There was a ceiling for flag football about 5-7 years ago but the women who play this sport are trailblazers. They punched that ceiling away. Just like you said, there is no ceiling in flag football. We continue to grow and we are not all.

Preseason Week 3

An image from the Aug. 28, 2021 Texans preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Texans lost 16-23.

Michelle Watson

What lessons have you learned from flag football that you can take off the field?

Klam: Definitely leadership qualities. I’ve learned that if you want to have a successful team there has to be 10 leaders on that team. It’s not just one leader, it is 10 leaders who are wanting to be great teammates. That’s something that my dad always preaches to our Fury girls. The wins and losses don’t matter. It’s about being a great teammate, leader, and person.

What is it about the sport that you love so much?

Klam: I mentioned the family aspect of Texas Fury earlier. For me, flag football is not just a game. It’s not about the wins or losses. It’s not about the touchdowns or dropped balls or the flag pulls. It’s about the connections you make on and off the field. It’s about coming together to push this sport to the next level.

I’m the youngest member of the national team but that did not stop my teammates from becoming friends with me. They never excluded me because of my age and that’s meant so much to me because I’ve always felt included.

Ashlea Klam USA 2.JPG


Ashlea Klam FF Family 2.JPG


That’s awesome! What do you hope to see in the future for flag football?

Klam: I want every single person to know what flag football is. There are still times when I tell people that I play and they say “What? I had no idea that was a thing.”

I want to eliminate that confusion and I want flag football to finally get the recognition that it deserves. I know it’s going to happen and I’m really excited to get to that point.

Is there a youth athlete in your life ready to start their flag football journey? Find youth leagues, tournaments, camps, and clinics in your area by visiting, The Home of Youth Sports.