Under the Friday night lights, it's hard not to notice Claire Jeffress. Standing at a height of 5-feet 3-inches tall with amber hair, she's not a typical sight on the gridiron. But to Dawson High School in Pearland, Jeffress is not a novelty. She is the varsity kicker.
"Once I step on the field, and once I put my pads on, I'm not a girl. I'm a football player," said Jeffress proudly at team practice on Thursday. It's a mantra she says her coach, Eric Wells, has used to encourage her for years.
Jeffress grew up playing soccer. She first made the football team in the seventh grade.
When asked how her friends reacted to her becoming the only girl on the team, Jeffress said they, "were overly excited, they said 'I'm going to make you fat head'."
When it came to making varsity, Coach Wells says picking Jeffress was a no-brainer.
"She's solid. She makes good contacts. She's tough as a boot," bragged Wells during halftime of the Dawson homecoming game Friday night. "Like I've always said, the kids rally around and protect her. She's just an eagle. She's a Dawson eagle."
Jeffress had put five points on the board during the first half of the team's homecoming game. While she may require a separate dressing room, that's where the difference in treatment between her and other teammates ends.
"They don't cut me slack because of my gender," said Jeffress of her coaches over the years. "They say 'you're a football player, you've got to prove yourself."
It's 2016. Women are leading in the world like never before. America could even see it's first female president this year. While Jeffress is far from the first female to play on a men's sports team, fans at the Homecoming game called her an inspiration for doing something that's still so rare in the world of sports.
Coach Wells says he's found no difference in coaching women or men. He says Jeffress' work ethic and athleticism is beyond question. It's what has earned her the respect and support of her teammates.
"These boys really always have my back," said Jeffress with a smile, "and that's the best part to me, is whenever I'm on the field, whenever I'm off the field, I know that I have an entire family supporting me."
Jeffress is grateful her coaches did not let her gender overshadow her skills. She hopes more coaches will consider that mindset, and that women will not be afraid to ask for the opportunity to play.
"If you don't ask, if you don't try, then the answer will always be no and it'll never happen. So, might as well go try. If I don't make something, that's OK. At least I put in 100% of my effort...because you never know what can happen," beamed Jeffress, sharing advice her parents gifted her as a little girl.
To see Claire Jeffress in action, check out the Dawson High School football schedule here.