LOS ANGELES • Jen Welter, a former rugby and professional gridiron player hired as a coaching intern with the Arizona Cardinals, said on Tuesday that she never dared dream she would coach in the National Football League.
"I could not have dreamed big enough to imagine this day could ever come," she said at her introductory press conference.
The Cardinals announced the hiring on Monday, adding Welter to their staff to work with inside linebackers during training camp and the pre-season.
She is thought to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL. It is not where the 37-year-old expected to end up as she played rugby at university, then spent 14 seasons playing in the Women's Football Alliance.
She still has the first pay cheque she received for playing football - US$12 (S$16.40) for a whole season at US$1 per game in a campaign that ended with a championship.
PAVING THE WAY FOR OTHERS
"I didn't start playing football to be here. The beauty of this (is), while it wasn't a dream I could have ever had, now it's a dream other girls can grow up having.
JEN WELTER, who is believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL
"I didn't start playing football to be here," she said. "The beauty of this (is), while it wasn't a dream I could have ever had, now it's a dream other girls can grow up having."
Welter won two gold medals playing for Team USA in the International Federation of American Football Women's World Championship in 2010 and 2013. She was the first female to play a non-kicking position in a men's pro league when she was a running back and on special teams for the Indoor Football League's Texas Revolution in 2014.
In addition to her on-field credentials, she holds graduate degrees in psychology and sports psychology.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said she "obviously has the background and the experience that we're looking for as a player and coach".
Cardinals inside linebacker Kevin Minter welcomed the appointment as ground-breaking.
"I feel like the league is changing, and we're seeing this in our lifetimes," he said. "Gay players, women coaches - it's kind of cool to be a part of it."
Football fans also hailed the move. "#NFLTrainingCamp hasn't even started and the @AZCardinals are already winning," The Dude (@Calicardsfan) tweeted.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS