Almost three weeks into her new job, inside linebackers coaching assistant Jen Welter is still generating buzz among Arizona Cardinals fans at the team's training camp. They squint to find her 5-foot-1 frame on the field occupied by players as big as 6-8.
"Where’s this girl at?" fans in the eager crowd utter.
They're interested to see the first female on an NFL coaching staff in action, and it is no surprise that she is already well received.
“I know football, and she’s doing a good job,” said Edward Manes, a Cardinals superfan of about 30 years. "I wouldn’t be surprised if they put her in the lineup.”
Welter has become a quick favorite among the players during training camp, who lovingly nicknamed her “Dr. J.” Her respect has been earned and the news of her hiring has drawn the positivity it deserves, because no matter her gender, she is qualified.
Welter found her way into the NFL with a recipe of confidence, toughness and a habit of shattering of glass ceilings. She comes with 15 years of football knowledge, including playing experience and a Masters in sport psychology.
At Sebastian River High School in Sebastian, Florida, she was a decent tennis player, although her lack of height worked against her. But her coach, Tom Fish, father of professional tennis player Mardy Fish, remembers her for other reasons.
“She stood out to me as far as determination, she had a lot of self-belief and she was a fighter," Fish says. "You could tell she was tough. She kind of felt like anything was possible."
It was that attitude that carried Welter to become the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a men’s professional football league.
During Welter's time as a running back and special teams player for the Texas Revolution, recent Hall of Fame inductee and former Revolution GM, Tim Brown, quickly became aware of her mental toughness. But it was her size again that made Brown skeptical when Welter told him she wanted to play.
“She got knocked around and kept getting up,” Brown said recently on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show. "She's very passionate about the game and I think she’s going to do the Cardinals very well. Hopefully she’ll be a groundbreaker here and be able to open the door for more women who want to get involved.”
Thankfully for women, particularly those who love football, Welter has already broken ground in the NFL. She is a breath of fresh air to any woman who is tired of hearing, "You know a lot about football -- for a girl."
She has spent her life running, literally, head first at full speed toward her passions, and the world of football is welcoming her with open arms, after enduring some tackles, of course.
To Welter, her accomplishments that shock the rest of the world are only a part of who she is and what she works for. Becky Hammon was able to win the NBA Summer League title coaching the San Antonio Spurs, and Nancy Lieberman is the newest member of the Sacramento Kings staff, because they believed in themselves when others may not have.
"Young women can now see there’s a place for them to be in this game too,” said Cardinals fan Marian Johnson of Tempe, Ariz. "It’s time we’re finally recognized for being able to do everything."
Someone had to do it, and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians picked the right woman for the job.