-Written by Anthony Polsal
Brownson assisted in drills for young girls at the clinic before she departed to Finland to serve as head coach for the U.S. Women’s Tackle National Football Team
CANTON — Callie Brownson stood near the 50-yard line on a turf field Tuesday at the Hall of Fame Village Sports Complex and looked around with a smile.
Over 70 girls around her were participating in various football drills as part of the Browns' "All Girls Football Clinic." They were surrounded by coaches Brownson selected to help her assist coaching the U.S. Women's Tackle National Football Team, which is departing Wednesday to Finland for the 2022 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women's Tackle World Championship in Vantaa.
For Brownson, the setting encapsulated everything she's wanted to see in football: Women working with other women to grow their involvement in the sport. She's been one of the leading advocates around the NFL for that cause ever since she started her coaching career, which is about to enter its third season with the Browns.
"This is just awesome," Brownson said. "It's been really great for our group (of coaches), and really great for the young girls that are here to learn from them. It shows that there's representation of women in football as adults and gives them an opportunity to set a goal and maybe have a dream to do what these women are doing right now."
For many women with interests in football, Brownson is a trailblazer.
She was the first woman to serve as a position coach during a regular season NFL game back in 2020. She's one of only a few coaches currently in a full-time coaching role, and her duties have only expanded since she joined the Browns in 2020 — Head Coach Kevin Stefanski added assistant wide receivers coach to her responsibilities this offseason.
With Brownson's increasing popularity in the game and programs provided by the Browns, girls flag football participation is steadily growing in Northeast Ohio.
The Northeast Ohio Girls High School Flag Football division grew from 55 girls in 2021 to over 140 girls in 2022, and that growth should continue with events such as the clinic in Canton, which was for girls aged 8-18, and an annual Girls High School Flag Football Championship Tournament, which debuted in May at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns are also continuing to push for flag football to become a fully sanctioned varsity sport available to female student athletes through the OHSAA by hosting more clinics and events featuring Brownson.
"It's been really cool for me," Brownson said. "I've been able to meet a lot of young people who are just amazed they can add 'football coach' or 'scout' to their list of what they want to be when they grow up. To me, that's what it's all about."
Brownson, who started playing football when she was 8, joked that she was "envious" of the expanded opportunities girls are receiving to play football. She wasn't able to play during high school but believes more women are set to enter the professional ranks of the sport because girls flag football participation is on the rise.
Exposure for girls playing in the sport has increased, too. An example of that will take place Aug. 4 dof the Hall of Fame Game between the Raiders and Jaguars at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium — Kirtland High School and Lake Catholic High School Girls Flag Football Teams will play during halftime of the game in custom Browns jerseys.
"It's going to be the memory of a lifetime for them," Brownson said. "It's gotta be the coolest feeling for them to be able to play at an NFL game in front of a crowd like that. It just makes it feel more and more real. It's going to be goosebumps, I'm sure."
Brownson might also have goosebumps next week when she paces the sidelines in Finland.
That's where the work Brownson has completed in a head coaching role with USA Football will be on display. The months of preparation leading to the World Championship have been a new and welcomed challenge for Brownson as she took command of building the roster, coaching staff and team identity. The team conducted its final practice of training camp Monday.
Brownson has leaned on her fellow coaches with the Browns for advice. Offensive quality control coach Ashton Grant and assistant defensive backs coach Brandon Lynch, for example, joined her in March for trials in Florida and helped her pick the best 45 players for the team.
In Finland, Brownson will be on her own in piloting the squad. Odessa Jenkins, who is the team's running backs coach and helped coach the clinic Tuesday, said the team instantly had full trust in Brownson after everything she's already achieved as a coach.
"You don't have to earn respect when you already have it," Jenkins said. "I think she's a player's coach. She's very meticulous. When you've been coaching the game for as long as she has, you understand the nuances and preparation. She walked into the room with respect."
When Brownson returns to Cleveland, she'll step back into her normal everyday duties with the Browns — and continue to forge ahead as a pioneer for women in football.
The progress she's been a part of creating was all around her Tuesday in Canton.
"I never really got into football to be a 'first' or 'a groundbreaker,'" she said. "That kind of stuff was all timing. All I really hope is that I set a good enough example for young women who want to work in football, play football or be in football in some capacity."