Callie Brownson was denied the opportunity to play high school football. Now the Alexandria native is rising through the NFL coaching ranks.

Her latest opportunity came to fruition this week when the Cleveland Browns hired her as the first female chief of staff in NFL history. The position resembles the role first-year Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski played while working as an assistant for then-Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress from 2006 to 2008.

Stefanski, now looking to make his mark as a rookie head coach, wanted to bring a woman onto his staff and chose Brownson based on her work ethic and experience with the New York Jets (2017 college/professional personnel scouting intern) and Buffalo Bills (2019 coaching intern).

“I made an emphasis on the fact that I work hard and I’ve had a rocky road to get to this point and it’s made me who I am,” Brownson said Friday in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “. . . I’m here to bring value and I’m here to do what I can to help him continue to put the pieces together of what’s going to be a great program, a great staff and a great team.”

Brownson said she will be working with every department in the building in order to bring Stefanski’s vision to light.

“It’s very involved in every aspect of a football operation,” Stefanski said in a story on the Browns’ team site. “Callie is uniquely situated where she can go interact with football ops or PR or the locker room or the equipment room. She’s really the liaison to the rest of the building for me. I’m going to lean on her heavily and already have.

“I think she’s a go-getter. She’s self-motivated,” Stefanski said. “She’s going to put all of her energy into this gig. What’s exciting for me is ultimately I want to develop young coaches. She’s someone that has worked on the offensive side of the ball, worked on special teams, has a great knowledge of the game and I want to let her expand that knowledge and develop her as a head coach.”

Brownson is still getting used to her spot as an NFL coach.

“If you had asked me five years ago if I’d be coaching in the NFL, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Brownson said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how it’s going to happen. I just know that I would love to continue to be a coach in the NFL. That’s the goal. But I’m also open to where the journey takes me.”

Brownson’s path to the NFL began in Alexandria, where she grew up a diehard football fan. In elementary school, she played for the Alexandria Bucknell Tigers youth team. At Mount Vernon High School, she inquired about playing football for the Majors but was told that girls playing football at the school was not an option.

“I remember being upset because I would’ve been playing with the guys I grew up with, the guys I played little league baseball with, the guys that I played youth football with,” Brownson said. “The guys that I grew up with were all going to be on the same team, and none of us really understood what the problem was. I had grown up not seeing that barrier.”

She pivoted from football to softball, returning to Mount Vernon years later as a softball coach and then as an assistant football coach from 2015 to 2017. In between her stints with the Jets and Bills, Brownson became the first female Division I college football assistant coach when she joined the staff at Dartmouth.

Shortly after attending George Mason University, she caught on with the D.C. Divas of the professional Women’s Football Alliance, where she would play eight seasons (2010-2017) as a slot receiver, safety and running back. She went on to win gold medals for Team USA at the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championships in 2013 and 2017.

“I see nothing but continual ascent in the sport,” D.C. Divas owner and team president Rich Daniel said of Brownson’s future. “Whether it be as a head coach at the highest level, whether it be a head coach at high school or college, I see her continuing to take the steps that she wants to take.”

“When I really think about it, I grew up through the Divas,” Brownson said. “. . . It’s a family. . . . I really came through my adulthood through that experience and learned a lot about myself.

“It was the best experience of my life and helped me fall in love with football all over again,” she added.

Brownson is among a growing contingent of women working on NFL sidelines, including San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers (her roommate with Team USA), Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar and Bucs assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust. That doesn’t mean she feels compelled to blaze a trail for other women hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“I don’t see it as pressure,” Brownson said. “I see it as a phenomenal opportunity to change the way people talk about this stuff.”

“I’m excited because the women that we have involved right now in football are so phenomenal and are changing people’s minds," Brownson said, “and in five, 10 years down the road you’re going to be looking at completely different sidelines.”

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