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Meet Callie Brownson, Division I college football’s first full-time female coach

When Callie Brownson participated in the Manning Passing Academy’s first women and girls’ football clinic in June, she had no idea that the opportunity would lead to a full-time coaching position at Dartmouth College.

“I went down not expecting to get a job, but saying ‘I will leave an impression on everyone around me,'” the 28-year-old tells CNBC Make It.

The two-day camp was put on by brothers Eli and Peyton Manning and facilitated by 16 women coaches, including Brownson, who was working as a high school football coach at the time. At the camp, she met Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth College’s head football coach. After impressing Teevens with her knowledge of and interest in the sport, Brownson was asked to participate in a two-week training internship with Dartmouth where she learned everything about the team, from its recruiting process, to strength and conditioning, practice and game planning and film evaluation.

Dartmouth College football coach Callie Brownson with Coach Dave Shula and some of Dartmouth's wide receivers.

Credit: Gil Talbot/Dartmouth

Dartmouth College football coach Callie Brownson with Coach Dave Shula and some of Dartmouth’s wide receivers.

“Callie is as good as anyone I’ve ever had in terms of her skill set, preparedness, attention to detail and passion,” Teevens says in an interview on Dartmouth’s website. “Players came up to me after a few days of preseason wondering if I would consider hiring her.”

The team had an opening for an offensive quality control coach, and Teevens treated the preseason internship like a tryout. He says Browson “excelled — on and off the field — every day.” She is now the first woman to hold this job in Division I college football.

Brownson, who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, says that while working in sports has always been a goal of hers, she didn’t always know how to make it a reality. “I played every sport that you can name as a kid and I loved it,” she says. “But, I think when you are young like that you don’t know what working in sports actually means, and I never had an idea of how I would make that work.”

At George Mason University she majored in sports management and learned about the different facets of sports business, including marketing, coaching and other leadership positions. But even then, she says, coaching football wasn’t at the top of her mind.

“I didn’t really realize I wanted to coach football until I was coaching for a high school softball team and also playing professional football for women,” she explains. “A coach [at the high school] said, ‘I heard you play and that is cool, but have you ever thought of coaching football?’ And honestly, I didn’t. I just never saw a woman doing that, and it’s not because I don’t think we could, but it just never crossed my mind.”

Dartmouth College's Offensive Quality Control Coach Callie Brownson.

Credit: Gil Talbot/Dartmouth

Dartmouth College’s Offensive Quality Control Coach Callie Brownson.

After giving the idea some thought, Brownson, who once played in the Women’s Football Alliance for the D.C. Divas, decided to transition from coaching softball to coaching football at her alma mater, Mount Vernon High School in Virginia. She spent four season as an assistant high school football coach before joining the NFL’s Women’s Careers Football Forum.

The program, which helps qualified women launch careers in football, led Brownson to land an internship with the New York Jets in the summer of 2017. Brownson worked in the team’s scouting department, and says the internship was a huge opportunity for her to learn whether coaching or scouting was a better professional fit for her.

But even then, she says, “I didn’t really know where that [internship] was going to take me. I was just kind of taking any opportunity I could get.”

When her internship ended, Brownson continued to take advantage of every opportunity she could find, including the coaching role at Manning Passing Academy, which paved the way for her current position at Darmouth. Looking back, she says she’s grateful she didn’t quit, because there were moments where the future seemed uncertain.

“There were a ton of times where I was like, ‘Man is this even possible?’ And not that I don’t have what it takes to get it done, but is anyone going to open this door? Because I am knocking pretty hard,” she says. “A lot of times when you are doing something that people don’t see often, you get a lot of ‘no’s’ and a lot of shut doors and a lot of ‘you’re not a good fit.’ But eventually, you get someone like coach Teevens, who comes around.”

As the first woman in her position, Brownson says she finds it “absurd that there has not been another female on a college sideline,” but she hopes that her presence will inspire other women to be as persistent as possible in reaching their football goals.

“You have to go into it with the mentality that you will be told ‘no’ more than you will be told ‘yes,’ and you have to remember why it’s the journey that you picked,” she says. “You have to be ready for the adversity and be on your game at the end of the day, because your credibility, work ethic and experience will speak volumes over anyone’s opinion.”

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