Roseanna Smith defies the odds, the challenges of being a women’s football coach


She played until her last year of high school and thought she would never play again. That is until she goes to the University of Iowa.

While there, a women’s football team, Iowa Courage, practiced about two hours from the Des Moines campus. She and a friend of hers were driving to practice and games. At the end of her senior year at Iowa, once again, she thought this was the last time she would play.

After moving to Atlanta, she took a detour and took up a sport that was new to her: golf. Again, no one in their family has ever played or been exposed to golf.

She started out as an intern for the American Junior Golf Association, accepting the job to find out if she wanted to work in the sport. It didn’t take long for her to realize that working in sports was a passion for her. After her internship, she accepted a full-time position.

After her time with the AJGA, she started playing football again. This time for the Atlanta Xplosion, an Independent Women’s Football League team.

While there, she was a replacement in her first season and started the next four on the offensive line. His team won the national championships in 2006 and 2011.

Smith’s journey to training began when she met David Wagner, who was the head coach of the Winder-Barrow High School football team. He told her to call her when she returned home to Georgia after traveling to Sweden during her tenure with the Team USA women’s football team.

After her return, she met Wagner.

“I met Coach Wagner again and showed him a movie,” Smith said. “At the end of this meeting, he gave me the (playbook) and asked, ‘What are you doing on Monday? Here is the playbook, I wish you were a freshman coach this year.

After coaching for three years, she returned to work for AJGA. It wasn’t until she met Wagner at a funeral that she saw him again. “Why aren’t you a coach,” Wagner asked Smith.

Smith thought about this and also wondered why she wasn’t training. Within a year, she returned to sports. First, she watched a movie with Wagner while he was a trainer at Flowery Branch High. After Wagner left for West Hall High as a defensive coordinator, he defended Smith and helped her secure a job as an assistant offensive line coach.

Smith cited Wagner and West Hall coach Krofton Montgomery as two important influences on his coaching career.

“If David opened the door for me as a coach, Krofton developed me to be a football coach,” Smith said. “A lot of coaches give you a platform to coach, but Crofton has invested in me.”

Montgomery loved having her on his team even since he met her at Winder-Barrow. He saw a lot of potential in her from the start.

“I hated to see her go, but she dreamed of becoming a college coach,” Montgomery said. “She is a tireless worker. She was instrumental in fundraising and the kids liked her. It’s hard to find people like her in this world, but she took the plunge because she enjoys helping people and helping them be successful. She would also bring a (different) mindset from a non-male perspective to staff meetings. She is so detail oriented, and I can see her being part of a great organization.

Another person who receives a lot of credit from Smith is Oberlin coach Steve Opgenorth. He offered her the opportunity to coach her team because of her self-confidence. When presented with the opportunity, she knew she had to seize it.

“I sold my house in a week,” Smith said. “I put everything away. I jumped in my car and said, ‘I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t try to make it.’ “

Opgenorth knew adding Smith to his squad would be a great hire.

“She’s a rock star, (and) she loves football,” Opgenorth said. “It’s evident in the first conversation you have. Because of her professionalism and the way she interacts with those around her, it was helpful to me to know that she would be a slam-dunk hire.

Opgenorth said he sees Smith as a learning ability, which he says is one of the main reasons for his success.

“His willingness to be vulnerable, to grow up and to ask the right questions,” Opgenorth said. “I believe top coaches are given a platform, and once you give them that platform, you have to empower them to thrive, survive, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and to earn. She took this platform and ran with it.

“Even in recruiting, she continues to grow on a daily basis, and this shows daily in the office and around (players).

There are many barriers women face in becoming a coach, and Opgenorth wanted to help Smith overcome those that came their way.

“She’s breaking down a lot of barriers,” Opgenorth said. “I think for me, (offering) the job at Oberlin, I wanted to do something unusual. Adding someone like Roseanna to this mix allows us to do something unusual. I wanted to change the game and look at this opportunity and this program in a different light. It’s not about their gender, how they look or what they’re talking about, or their experience, but it’s how great they want to be. She fits that mold, and that’s why she’s here.

Being where she is right now and having someone like Opgenorth is helpful for her continued development as a coach.

“It’s something amazing to invest in me and trust me to be a part of their team,” Smith said of Opgenorth. “I think of everyone who’s scrambling for change, whether it’s a head coach like Steve who dumps on me and teaches me and asks me to come up with our red zone plan every week. Or, you know, putting me in situations that I’ve never been 100% handled like that helps me with every future interaction that I have.

The few coaches face many challenges. For Smith, she doesn’t see this as adversity. Instead, she focuses on how she can improve herself and use her gift for coaching.

“I’m not saying it was easy. I’m sure people have talked about me. Some of the guys on my team, when I first started playing, thought I was doing it for attention. My only intention was to challenge myself and do something that made me incredibly happy and hope that I could serve others in the same way that the coaches and mentors I had changed my life.


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