Elizabeth Graham doesn't look like a typical football coach, which is good since the mother of two football players is most decidedly not your typical football coach.
She does, however, sound very much like any other football coach.
"I was very disappointed," she said when asked about a second-place finish for her select team at the NFL Flag Championships in Las Vegas recently. "Some things just didn't go our way; we had a few bad calls and there was a lot of nerves on the boys side. We threw an interception on the first play and from that point on we were playing catch-up."
Graham led the Jaguars 14U boys team, who won every game in every tournament leading up to the championship game in Nevada. The Jaguars picked up the flights, hotels and meals and quarterback Trevor Lawrence contributed new cleats for entire team. Despite the early setback they finished 5-1 and impressed out west.
"The whole experience was great," Graham said. "The Jags took care of everything from beginning to end, handled all the details and so the boys just had to focus on playing the games. Many of them had never been out of Florida, never been to Vegas, never played in the cold or wind so it was a learning experience, but it was a great experience for them."
The Jaguars wanted the team to get the full Vegas treatment, so they put them up at the Venetian right on the strip and treated them to the roller coaster at New York, New York and team bonding experiences throughout the city. It's all part of Jaguars PREP which focuses on giving kids a chance to play youth football, and maybe even take it to the next level like Graham's team.
The ten middle school athletes also experienced something that most football players have not. A female coach.
You could say Graham is THE female football coach in Jacksonville and her passion comes from her family's love affair with the game. Son Christopher is a junior offensive lineman at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and son Thomas is finishing his freshman year on her junior varsity squad at Sandalwood High School.
"People that aren't in my circle have been very shocked," explained Graham of those who discover that a female financial planner moonlights as a high school football coach. "They're like; 'we didn't see that coming, when do you have the time to coach?'"
Graham was looking for a way to be more involved in her son's lives and that led to a chance to help with the Saints' football program. Every youth organization is seemingly starved for volunteers and so head coach Adam Geis didn't question the chance to add another devoted parent to the program. It clearly didn't take long for him to see that Graham wasn't your typical team mom and it didn't take long for him to take action.
"Coach Geis mentored me for a good four years," Graham said. "He taught me the logistics, helped me with the paperwork, the supplies we needed. He's a great varsity coach and it took all of four years to get to the point where I was like; 'okay, I'll try this position."
The confident Graham jumped into the role with both feet last season and never looked back. She didn't worry about what the players might think, and it turns out they didn't think a lot about whether the new coach was a man or a woman.
"I don't think from a gender perspective there was a challenge," she said. "I have such a big personality. I respected the players, but I also demanded their respect in return from day one. They knew what was required of them. With our team, I had no challenges with our plan or our playbook, I had a great staff with the JV program."
A head football coach is so much more than someone who knows how to block and tackle. A coach is a leader and a tactician and neither of those qualities are limited to men. Graham paced the sidelines last season as the first and only football coach in Duval County, but she knows she won't be the only for very long.
"As women we're raising children and running our households," said Graham. "Now, you see more women on the corporate side in sports because it's really a chess game. We're able to strategize and think four or five steps ahead because we've already had to do that. It's exciting because a few years ago it didn't seem like these opportunities would happen."
Graham doesn't think it's a stretch that we'll see a women in charge of a high school program and after that the sky's the limit. She's open to the possibilities of where it could take her after just a year as the JV coach.
"I'd certainly have to think about it," she said of climbing the coach ladder. "Maybe one day the Jags will want a female coach around and I'll be ready. We did go 5-1 in Vegas."
For more information on NFL Flag and to find a league in your area, please visit: nflflag.com
The Jaguars are committed to growing the game of football in the youth and high school space under Jaguars PREP. For more information, please visit: jaguars.com/prep
Jacksonville Jaguars 14U Team Roster:
- Jabari McMillan
- Timothy Cole II
- Derayl Gathers
- Kaleb Taylor-Burch
- Troy Hillman
- Jaime Ffrench Jr.
- Naeem Burroughs
- Drake Stubbs
- Carlos Witherup
- Fareed Coleman Jr.
The Jacksonville Jaguars 14 U PREP team, which focuses on giving kids a chance to play youth football, packed their bags and headed west for the NFL Flag Championship. The Jaguars 14U team is coached by Elizabeth Graham