By Evan Wheaton
Football players begin pushing and shoving on the turf.
As chaos erupts on the sidelines, student-athletes are beginning to step out on the field during the middle of a game. The GA’s are corralling the student-athletes on the sidelines before the referees begin to throw their penalty flags.
“On the sidelines, the strength coaches are called the ‘get back coaches,’” said Brian Thompson, the Graduate Program Director for Strength and Conditioning at Springfield College, with a chuckle. “Your job is to keep the players behind the line so that they don’t get too close out into the field and get a penalty.”
Football is an emotional game. Things can get out of hand, and players can have reactions out of excitement, anger, or a rush of testosterone that may cause them to break away from the sideline.
“They are more like children in that aspect than anything,” Olivia Indorf, one of the strength and conditioning coaches said. “You’re literally walking down the line trying to make them get back and they’ll step behind the line and say, ‘I’m sorry Coach, I didn’t mean it,’ and then you turn around and they’re right back on the line again. It’s like herding sheep, to be honest.”
The GA’s aren’t just responsible for players — often times they’ll have to keep the coaches in line as well.
“The hardest thing with ‘get back coaches,’ at least for me, is telling the actual coaches to get back,” said Terrie Bradshaw, another strength coach. “They have their headsets on and they’re so invested in the game and they don’t hear you half the time.”
The uproar is beginning to die down from the players, although head coach Mike Cerasuolo is immersed in the heat of the moment. He’s too close to the field for the GA’s liking.
Verbal commands aren’t producing the desired results. Bradshaw grabs onto Cerasuolo’s belt and yanks him back to the sideline.
This team of strength and conditioning coaches are passionate and knowledgeable.
They aren’t messing around.
And they’re all women.
Bradshaw, Indorf, Izabella Mocarski, and Kellie Gambell are the four graduate assistants who form the strength and conditioning team for Springfield College’s football program.
“I think that we’re all really excited and really grateful for this opportunity, but we definitely earned it,” Gambell said. “We were there all last year every day, early mornings, late nights, doing what we could do to earn these roles.”
Springfield College is currently the only school in the nation across all divisions to have more than two female graduate assistant strength and conditioning coaches for football. For Mocarski, the situation is a very normal part of life.
“As weird as it sounds, I don’t think it’s hit me like that yet,” Mocarski said on being a part of an all-female GA team. “People keep saying it, but I’m like, ‘I’m just Coach.’”
Mocarski isn’t the only one who hasn’t gotten caught up in the unique scenario. Cerasuolo sees four women being the best fit for the job as purely a coincidence.
“We don’t look at it as a big deal,” Cerasuolo said. “We look at it as far as they’ve been with us last year as well as being their first year as a part of the program, so they’ve worked with some great past GA’s, and obviously they’re very knowledgeable and very passionate.”
Women play in the WNBA. There are high school and college level athletics for women, as well as powerful icons such as Serena Williams and Megan Rapinoe.
This circumstance isn’t about women playing sports. It’s about strength and conditioning coaching growing as a field with a female presence.
Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. is a Division III institution, where Angela Dendas-Pleasant has been the current head strength and conditioning coach since 2013 and works with their football program.
Western Oregon University held a staff consisting of two female coaches (Cori Metzgar-Deacon and Rebecca Smith) from 2013-2018, who were also charged with overseeing the strength and conditioning efforts of their football program.
In addition, the one Division I institution that has a head strength and conditioning coach (Corliss Fingers) who is a woman is Bethune-Cookman University.
And now Springfield College is joining the list in a historic way.
Thompson knew the current staff members were the right fit for the job, regardless of gender.
“When I look at hiring GA’s for the next year, I look at what they’re interested in and where they’ll fit the best, and it just happened,” Thompson said. “They were all interested in football and they were all fit for football. They all had the passion I needed, the coaching ability, the knowledge and everything with football.”
Cerasuolo also felt that the GA’s were obvious choices for the positions.
“I always go back to, ‘What do you look for in a strength coach? Knowledge and passion,” Cerasuolo said. “If you know what you’re talking about and you can motivate the kids to execute it, then we’re going to be in great shape.”
The investment and passion of the GA’s is more than just being the first ones at meetings and creating vigorous programs for the players. They’ve bought into the Brotherhood culture and speak the same language, including team mantras.
“100-strong is a big one they use all the time,” Mocarski said. “It’s making sure that all the athletes are always invested as a unit, versus everyone going off in different directions.”
The phrase “100-strong” is a direct value of the Brotherhood culture. Just because the GA’s are women doesn’t mean they don’t tie into it.
“That’s (the Brotherhood) a huge thing we use as well, those are your brothers, that’s your family, we’re part of the Brotherhood,” Bradshaw said. “It’s pretty cool that we’ve become part of the Brotherhood as well.”
That genuine mutual respect carries into the weight room, where Bradshaw, Indorf, Mocarski, and Gambell can be heard encouraging student-athletes through the commotion of clanking weights and loud music. The bustling scene is what one would expect — sweat covering the mats and equipment, as players move from one exercise to the next.
But their responsibilities aren’t just shouting for players to ‘get back’ on the sidelines, or motivating in the weight room. Being part of the Brotherhood means caring for each other in a deep way.
“Almost everybody can attest that not only do they have an investment to us in the weight room, but they’re definitely people that you can count on and are go-to people for any situation that can possibly come about,” senior center Nick Bainter said.
The 100-strong unit doesn’t encompass just the players. It’s the entire Springfield College football program. Everyone has a job to do, and it goes without saying that everyone has one shared task: be there for each other.
“A lot of times they can see the guys and see their demeanor and see if they’re a little down, a little hurt, a little beaten up, whatever the case may be so that they can give us an idea so we can monitor practice accordingly,” Cerasuolo said.
Although the strength and conditioning field is seeing an increase in female involvement, at the end of the day, the four women who comprise the Springfield College football strength and conditioning staff didn’t get where they are now because of their gender.
They got here because they were the top candidates from a very stringent screening process.
“I hand-pick about 12 students every year to come into the graduate program, anywhere from 50-70 applications,” Thompson said. “Then I pick usually five or six GA’s for next year out of that group.”
After spending the previous year as interns, Bradshaw, Indorf, Mocarski, and Gambell were the four candidates that made the cut for the 2019 season.
From working closely with supervisors to write programs about nutrition and conditioning, to implementing said programs, to managing interns and working with injured student-athletes, the GA’s have had their hands full ever since.
And they’ve never shied away from the challenge.
“If you’re a grad student at Springfield College in strength and conditioning, you’re definitely the real deal,” Thompson said. “You know your stuff.”
Bradshaw, Indorf, Mocarski, and Gambell look forward to advancing their coaching careers in the realm of strength and conditioning.
Because they were chosen from nearly 100 candidates for a reason.
No, not because they’re women.
Because they do know their stuff.
Photo courtesy of Springfield College Athletics