FAYETTE – They were told to hit her harder than all the boys.
Because of her gender, Brittanee Jacobs had a ‘X’ on her chest before she could even suit up for football her senior year of high school in 2007.
She said some of the players on the Chillicothe High School football team were instructed by their fathers to put a little more oomph into their hits if a girl was allowed to play with the big boys.
Jacobs was 5 feet 5 inches tall and barely weighed 140 pounds at the time.
Not everyone on the team shared these sentiments, including an offensive lineman who said that if someone ever attempted to hurt her in practice, "that wasn’t going to happen."
She broke two bones in her foot playing soccer in the spring of her junior year and never put on pads for the Hornets football team.
And by her senior year, her teachers were telling her she needed to figure out what she was going to do with her life after high school, because playing football or her other passion — coaching — were not viable options.
But Jacobs wouldn't listen.
She remembers telling her fifth-grade physical education teacher that "he was going to see headlines in, like, 15 years that say ‘First female coach in NFL leads Vikings to Super Bowl victory.'"
Jacobs, 22, is in her first season as the graduate assistant safeties coach for the Central Methodist University football team in Fayette. The first-year graduate student handles coaching duties, along with football operations, quality control and equipment management, for a team that is 2-4 entering this Saturday’s homecoming game against Graceland University.
She started college at MU in fall 2008, and by 2010 she had enrolled at CMU. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the English department.
Although she wears many hats for the Eagles, including a ton of office work she does on her purple laptop that is plastered with Vikings stickers, Jacobs gets most of her coaching done when working with the junior varsity team whenever CMU's opponents field a lower-level team. She has helped lead the group to a 5-0 start with back-to-back-to-back double-digit wins the past two weeks.
Two weeks ago, in a 28-14 win over Missouri Valley College, the Eagles' JV squad caused five turnovers on downs and forced two turnovers. On Oct. 1, the CMU JV team defeated William Penn University 28-8, with four turnovers on downs, two forced punts and a fumble recovery.
"Our defense on JV is pretty good," she said, sitting in her office. The office has a big green sign on the outside wall that lists "Defensive Goals," such as four takeaways a game, blocking field goals and scoring on defense.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, in which CMU plays, does not keep records of female coaches. Neither does the National Federation of State High School Associations, nor the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, there were 51 female assistant football coaches and graduate assistants in all three NCAA divisions last year. There were 6,264 total.
Although she is not allowed into the locker room like her male counterparts, Jacobs fits in with all the other coaches, down to her cargo shorts and buzz cut. She stands out on the practice field with her neon green tennis shoes, which contrast with the dark green team colors.
Junior quarterback Alex Harrell met Jacobs at the school newspaper, The Collegian, when he was a beginning reporter and she was an editor. He said it is easy to assume that a woman would not know what she is talking about when it comes to football, but that should not be the case.
"To me, you can’t see gender or race," he said. "With the officials, as long as they know the rule book, or as a coach they know what they’re talking about, you have to respect them."
This summer, Jacobs sent a Facebook message to Shannon Eastin, who became the first female NFL referee in league history this season during the referee lockout, which ended Sept. 26. She told Eastin that she was inspired by the groundbreaking work she was doing at the professional level and how it affected her early work as an assistant coach. She is still waiting for a response.
Jacobs hopes to coach in the NFL someday, a profession she has wanted to break into since one Sunday almost two decades ago.
On Sept. 25, 1994, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter caught three touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins in an early season matchup. A 4-year-old Jacobs watched in awe as the big men on the screen clashed for 60 minutes, culminating in a 38-35 victory for the Vikings.
She recalled being the only girl who wanted to play football at recess. She went on to participate in the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick program, a national skills competition for young girls and boys.
The Chillicothe native also attended a football camp in Carrollton when she was in the fifth grade. She still keeps a photo of herself on her office desk in the all-red Trojans uniform she wore then.
"It's kind of a big deal," she said of the photo. "It's my motivation every day."
But by the time she reached middle school, she was not allowed to play anymore due to the revolutionary legislation Title IX.
Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in June of that year and calls for gender equity in every educational program that receives federal funding. The law has broken the glass ceiling for women in sports but also, to this day, has its limitations.
Jacobs believes the law is misconstrued, especially because it was used against her in middle and high school. Girls at her school were not allowed to play football because volleyball was offered as an alternative sport during the fall season. She took the matter to the school board and superintendent but gave up after not making any progress.
"I understand me being a girl, I get that," she said. "But if its a risk I’m willing to take, and I really want it and want to play, then I don’t understand then why it wasn’t OK."
In high school she was going to be allowed to compete, but her broken foot prevented the dream of playing from ever coming true.
That lack of experience on the field would usually be a red flag for someone attempting to coach, but Jody Ford, the Central Methodist head football coach, saw something else in his future assistant.
He admitted that if he had not been on the coaching staff the previous four years as a defensive coordinator, he might have been skeptical of a woman coaching, but he knows his team, and Jacobs being a coach is a non-issue.
He realized the passion that Jacobs has for the game and believes that trumps all the experience she was not afforded because of her gender. Using legendary college football coach Lou Holtz as an example, Ford doesn’t equate time on the field to capability on the sideline.
“I don't think you necessarily have to be a player to be a coach.”
A title that Jacobs is still getting used to.
"It didn't hit me, I don't think, until one day at practice an upperclassman said 'Coach.'"
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.