On Monday, the Arizona Cardinals hired Dr. Jen Welter as a training camp/preseason intern, coaching inside linebackers, making her what is believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.
A 14-year women's pro player and two-time Team USA gold medalist, Welter previously attracted the national spotlight as the first woman in a non-kicking position (running back) in a men's professional football league. She went on to become the first woman to coach men's professional football, for the Texas Revolution.
Now, Welter prepares for her biggest challenge with the Cardinals, working under head coach Bruce Arians. The following is a first-person account from Welter, as told to Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles.
I've been playing this game for a long time, but this wasn't something I dreamed about. It wasn't something I could have ever envisioned happening.
If I had told someone I wanted to be an NFL coach, they would probably have looked at me like I was crazy.
To be here...it's greater than imagined. It's definitely surreal.
This was something that didn't happen over one day.
It basically started after a press conference. Bruce was asked if there could ever be a female coach in the NFL, and he said yes. After that, I put in a call and left a message for him, and he called back.
I walked into practice around 5:30 that morning, and Revolution head coach Devin Wyman had this huge smile on his face. He said, "Baby girl, you will never guess who I talked to for about an hour."
Devin had just gotten off the phone with Bruce, who asked if I would consider an NFL internship.
Of course, I laughed and smiled at first. It was the first time I had heard about an NFL internship. I knew a lot of players and coaches would know about it, but I'd never heard about it.
I kept hearing how Bruce is such an amazing guy. A few weeks later, I went out to an OTA and talked to him on the sidelines. When I got there, it was so welcoming, so sincere.
He told me after practice that he wanted to give me the internship but didn't know if he could pull it off because he needed the support of his general manager first.
But he told me, "In my heart, that's what I want to do."
Arizona Cardinals @AZCardinals
Jen Welter (@jwelter47) earns coaching gig with #AZCardinals. http://t.co/eQu8HUZlZY RETWEET to welcome her to AZ! http://t.co/xo4f1iAuV72015-7-28 00:39:41
A few weeks after that, I was playing for the Champions Indoor Football championship against Sioux City, and I called Bruce to let him know we were playing.
He said to win that championship, and then—oh, by the way—that internship was going to happen.
He told me that there was a lot of work to do and that he'd give me details the next week.
Did that really just happen?
I didn't believe it until I physically got that ticket. I'm still waiting to get pinched!
He's right; there's a lot of work to do, and that's what I'm here to do. It's exciting to show not only women and girls, but pretty much everyone that anything is possible. Thankfully, the Cardinals support this.
I met Calais Campbell and Shaq Riddick on Tuesday. Both of those guys are phenomenal. Calais laughed when I told him the biggest girl I've ever gone against was 6'8". She's as tall as he is.
I haven't had a chance to meet everyone yet, but every player I've met so far was welcoming. I've gotten much more of a chance to meet the coaches.
Patrick Peterson /P2 @P2
One team, one goal! Let's go to work coach @jwelter47 ! #Birdgang #OperationBringLombardiTrophyToAZ2015-7-28 01:31:45
The hardest part has been to balance all the people you love with the opportunity at hand. I would love to call all the people I know and talk to them for an hour individually, but the media is the best way to facilitate some of those answers.
How has life changed? I'm still coaching, so not too much. I'm not a hard-ass as a coach; you can ask any of the guys I coached last season. My objective is to take the opportunity given to me, see where guys are and try to help them on the field.
I would never step into this situation and say that you have to listen to me because I'm the coach. As an athlete, I would have shut that person down myself. You have to prove yourself first. I'm a person who assesses a situation and brings in what I can.
I'm about football. I love this game, and I am there for the players. I was brought in to do a job and be a part of the Arizona Cardinals.
Dr. Jen Welter @jwelter47
#motivation my football treasures #$12check, 2010 team USA flag, my earliest football pic, and my dissertation http://t.co/2Nvng1zHH72015-7-29 13:29:01
I'll be working with Larry Foote. He's a tremendous linebacker. My goal is to listen, reinforce and help. It might be just one word or one gesture that helps a guy, but it's going to be a natural progression. I'll take my cues from the coaches around me. It's their show; I'm just there to reinforce it and make it to where when the players step on field, they have no questions.
There's a lot of responsibility, sure, but it's a great opportunity to inspire and help elevate people and elevate the human spirit. I'm honored to show this as a positive story.
I think what sets in to me, in terms of making a difference, is that it's not just about me. I'm here with the Cardinals, but this blessing has overflowed to my roots—the women playing football.
The Dallas Elite is my family. They're playing the D.C. Divas for the Women's Football Alliance championship on Aug. 8. I got a text from Elite player Odessa Jenkins on Tuesday, and she said she had an interview with ESPN.
Dr. Jen Welter @jwelter47
S/o to all the women who love & play football. I want to share this moment w/ you! Ladies, anything is possible! #nfl http://t.co/s4gIvHm4CQ2015-7-28 00:31:19
For this to have spread to other females in football, that's when you see there's a difference being made. That's thrilling to me. It's not about me; to get texts like the one OJ sent, that brings tears to my eyes.
I look at it all...it's a game-changer.
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Follow him via Twitter: @DamonSayles