Jen Welter pictured at a press conference where she was named intern coach for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals on July 28, 2015Jen Welter pictured at a press conference where she was named intern coach for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals on July 28, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ralph Freso)
Los Angeles (AFP) - Jen Welter, a former rugby and professional gridiron player hired as a coaching intern with the Arizona Cardinals, said she never dared dream she would coach in the NFL.
"I could not have dreamed big enough to imagine this day could ever come," Welter said at her introductory press conference.
The Cardinals had announced the hiring on Monday, adding Welter to their staff to work with inside linebackers during training camp and the pre-season.
She is thought to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.
It's not where Welter expected to end up as she played rugby at university, then spent 14 seasons playing in the Women's Football Alliance.
She still has the first paycheck she received for playing football -- $12 for a whole season at $1 per game in a campaign that ended with a championship.
"I didn't start playing football to be here," Welter said. "The beauty of this (is), while it wasn't a dream I could have ever had, now it's a dream other girls can grow up having."
Welter won two gold medals playing for Team USA in the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.
She was the first female to play a non-kicking position in a men's pro league when she was a running back and on special teams for the Indoor Football League's Texas Revolution in 2014.
In addition to her on-field credentials, she owns graduate degrees in psychology and sports psychology.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said the 37-year-old "obviously has the background and the experience that we're looking for as a player and coach."
Welter knows Arians was at the forefront of her hire but that it only came to pass with support from ownership, the front office and the other coaches.
- Blazing a trail -
She said fellow intern Levon Kirkland, who will work with outside linebackers, had already reached out about finding time to study the team's playbook together.
"You can’t blaze a trail alone, otherwise you'll get stuck in the woods," Welter said.
Welter, who worked as an assistant coach for the Revolution, believes she'll be able to connect with NFL players since she shares their passion for the game.
"I've been in love with this game for a long time," she said.
Cardinals inside linebacker Kevin Minter welcomed Welter's appointment as ground breaking.
"I feel like the league is changing, and we're seeing this in our lifetimes," Minter said. "Gay players, women coaches -– it's kind of cool to be a part of it."
The move comes amid other breakthroughs for women in America's top pro leagues.
The NFL has hired Sarah Thomas for the 2015 season as the league's first full-time female official.
In the wake of that success for the former WNBA player, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he had "no doubt" the league would one day see a woman head coach.