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Tackling gender roles

Alumna interns on NFL coaching staff

As a child, she spent every Sunday at her grandfather’s house, sitting at his kitchen table and eating a donut while he read the newspaper. One day, she started asking questions.

“Who are the Cowboys? What does this mean?”

Those questions led to sitting on the couch and watching Sunday football, game after game. She looked over at her family one day and said, “I think I want to play football.” Her mom shot that down, but that rejection only led to an increasing desire to become a coach.

During her time at Hebron, 2019 graduate Isabel Diaz kept that passion for coaching and has now reached her goal of becoming a football coach, currently interning for the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts.

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“[In coaching], you’re as involved in the game as a player is,” Diaz said. “Coaching stands out to me because of the relationships that you build with the players. There are players [and coaches] that are from different backgrounds, and they all come together as one to go and win a game. The routine will never be the same — it’ll always be different, and I love every aspect.”

After graduating high school, Diaz went to college at Oklahoma State University, majoring in sports and coaching science, and minoring in sports management. Within the degree, she took multiple math and science classes, a leadership class and a pedagogy class — a course where students would take turns playing sports and coaching each other.

“Whatever I was determined to do and passionate about, [my family was] going to be a thousand percent behind me, and they have been ever since,” Diaz said. “My friends were always supportive. Sure, there were people here and there that were like, ‘Oh this can’t happen,’ and it is what it is. I’ll just let my actions and what I’m doing show them what I’m capable of.”

After following the NFL women’s forum since her freshman year of high school — a pipeline for women who want to continue in football and pursue coaching — Diaz was reached out to by former football player Samantha Rapoport and was asked to participate in the forum. She landed a Bill Walsh coaching fellowship in 2022 and trained with the Washington Commanders, where she worked with the defensive backs and learned more about the NFL. After graduating in May from OSU, Diaz was invited back to the women’s forum, where she applied for another coaching fellowship and landed her current internship with the Colts.

“I [call my skills] my toolbox,” Diaz said. “[I created] a [box] of all these tools that I had in my back pocket and of [all] that I knew how to do really well to get me to my next step — here I am with the Colts.”

While at Hebron, Diaz came to school on weekends and worked with the football coaches. They would tackle looking at the opponent, finding their weaknesses and understanding the game on a deeper level.

“She was like a sponge,” former football coach Robert Vaughn said. “She would soak up everything and ask questions. [Coaching is] kind of like a chess match, [and] she’s a bright person. She can figure out how to make her way through and, hopefully, become an assistant coach or coordinator, and thrive.”

As a former cheerleader, Diaz was coached by varsity cheer coach Courtney Jackson. Diaz and Jackson still keep in touch, updating each other about their lives. Jackson said she plans on going to see Diaz coach at one of her games this year.

“I have all the faith in the world that she’s going to make it [in coaching],” Jackson said. “She’s done so much so far to get to [this] point. Sometimes goals change, so I just hope that she’s happy with what she’s doing with her life, wherever she wants to be.”

Diaz said she hopes to one day be a head coach in the NFL; to be a part of the new wave of women in coaching, continuing to learn and grow.

“[Coaching] pushed me out of my comfort zone and [helped me get] comfortable with the unknown,” Diaz said. “I’ve grown in every aspect. With the position I’m in and what I’m pursuing, I shouldn’t care what people think. [I just need to be] confident in myself and confident that I can do this.”

This story was originally published on The Hawk Eye on October 6, 2023.