Assistant running backs coach Jennifer King joked to senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson that it feels like everything she does is a first.
Well, yes, it does seem like that, because it's true, for the most part.
King, who became the first African American female assistant position coach in NFL history in 2021, was named the running backs coach for the West team in the 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl in January, and it is believed that she is the first woman positional coach to serve in a positional role in a major college all-star game.
Given that her running backs combined for 136 yards and a touchdown -- in a 25-24 win, no less -- it was quite the first impression for King. It was a brief look at one of King's bigger goals: to be in charge of her own position group full-time, and not just in a bowl game.
"This was a great experience," King said. "To have my own room and see…how you may do things or things you may need to work on."
It was a great week, King said, as she got to work with running backs Ty Chandler, Jashaun Corbin, Trestan Ebner and Keaontay Ingram as well as fullback Clint Ratkovich. There was some fun to be had, but she and her players worked hard at mastering the nuances of the plays. It showed on the field, too, as the West Team more than doubled the ground production of that from the East Team.
That doesn't come as a surprise to NFL Network's Rhett Davis, who was calling the game. Davis praised her abilities as a coach and mentioned that her fellow coaches were doing the same.
"The best part about this was hearing the other coaches on the staff talk about what a great member of the staff she's been," Davis said. "And her intensity, and her attention to detail with these guys, which I think we've seen a lot in Washington with Antonio Gibson.”
Gibson isn't the only Washington running backs who can speak to King as a coach. J.D. McKissic, who has been one of the league's best pass-catching running backs, also credits her for his success.
"Every time I said I was going to do something, she was out there," McKissic said in a Washington Post piece. "She would be out there 15 minutes early, and we'd push each other like: 'Hey, I'm out here. Where you at?' Whenever I would be like, 'Coach King, I need you,' there was never a holdup. It was like, 'Let's get it.' That's the type of stuff players need."
While King's primary focus during the Shrine Bowl was to coach her running backs, it's not lost on her that what she's been able to accomplish has struck a chord with women who aspire to make a career in the NFL as well as those who are already in the league. With women being hired by teams for football roles more frequently, King calls it "beautiful" to be able to celebrate them in the world of sports.
"I think it's awesome to see so many women doing great things across the board," King said. "Obviously in football, but in every aspect of sports."
"I think it's fantastic that she's the first, Davis said, "and hopefully not the last. There's gonna be a bunch more, and I think that's great for the game."