A Football Student Assistant Coach on Her Way Up
Sophomore Jula Harrington, A22, a student assistant coach for the Tufts football team, is one of just forty women in the country who has been selected to attend the National Football League’s 2020 Women’s Careers in Football Forum later this month.
Held on February 25-26 during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, the Women’s Careers in Football Forum serves to educate and connect female candidates working in football operations. The forum will provide participants with the opportunity to interact with top executives in professional and college football programs in an effort to help grow their network and learn industry insights.
The program is invite-only. The NFL partnered with several organizations, including the NCAA and Women’s Leaders in College Sports, to identify forty women, early in their football careers, who have a strong desire to advance in the sport. Qualified applicants for the forum are currently working in collegiate football programs in the areas of coaching, scouting, and football operations roles.
“You have been identified as a top candidate based on your dedication and achievements in the football industry,” Venessa Hutchinson from the NFL wrote to Harrington in the letter inviting her to attend.
Harrington’s interest in football emerged by watching her older brother Gabe play. She became a student manager of the team at Francis Parker School in San Diego and saw a side of sports that she didn’t get while playing for the basketball, lacrosse, and track and field teams at Parker.
“I’d grown up practicing and playing on teams my whole life, but to be involved with it behind the scenes, and to be a part of an operation and know that you are an important aspect of it, was really special to me,” she said.
She became such a valuable part of Parker football’s operation that head coach Matt Morrison suggested that she could be a team captain. After she wrote an essay that was required to potentially become a captain, the rest of the team voted for her as one of the leaders of the 2017 Lancers.
“I think they knew how committed I was to the program,” she said. “I didn’t miss a practice or a game. They treated me like I was actually on the team, which was really validating as a woman being a part of an all-male team.”
Her journey to Tufts started when she met Jumbo head coach Jay Civetti by chance. She and her family were visiting Gabe, who was playing football at Colby College. The Mules were facing the Jumbos that weekend, and the family was staying in the same hotel as the Tufts team. A conversation with Civetti opened Harrington’s eyes to Tufts, and a visit to campus during Homecoming in 2017 convinced her it was the right place to be.
She joined the Jumbo football team as a student manager and has seen her role increase in two short years. In addition to playing a key part of the team’s operation at practices, she’s now working on alumni relations, player development, community service, and social media for the team. She gives campus tours to recruits on game days.
“We’re lucky to have her,” Civetti said. “She’s a tireless worker who is as committed to the program as anyone.”
A former classmate of hers at Parker had been a football manager at the University of Virginia and attended the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum. Harrington saw it on social media and reached out to Venessa Hutchinson at the NFL to learn more about it.
It’s indeed a small world: Hutchinson had previously worked with Civetti at Boston College. Harrington spoke with Hutchinson on the phone and then in December received an invitation to attend.
The forum will feature panel discussions and breakout and networking sessions aimed at educating and preparing women for careers in football operations. Some of those careers include coaching, officiating, scouting, and football front office positions.
Harrington said she is looking forward to meeting women who are already involved in the league, but also wants to hear the stories of the other women who are attending to see how they got their start and what their interests might be.
Women have been making their way into the NFL for the last twenty years. In 1997, Amy Trask became the first female chief executive officer of an NFL team, the Oakland Raiders—a position she held until 2013. Katie Sowers has been an offensive assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers since 2017. In 2017-2018, Women’s Careers in Football Forum participants landed twenty-six positions in the NFL, college football, and other leagues.
Harrington hopes to land a summer internship to further her own potential career in the league.
“I’m still very open to a lot of things right now,” Harrington said. “I’m not exactly sure what I want to do within the sport, but I know that I love working with the team and being part of something bigger.”
Director of Athletic Communications Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.