Jennifer King has always loved football, and she's done everything in her power to set herself up for a career on the gridiron.
King has played quarterback for more than a decade, and when she was not throwing touchdown passes, she was teaching the game both collegiately and professionally. She worked at Dartmouth College and in the Alliance of American Football. For the past two offseasons, she served as an offensive coaching intern for the Carolina Panthers under Ron Rivera.
All of this hard work and sacrifice culminated on Tuesday when the Washington Redskins, now led by Rivera, announced her as a full-year coaching intern. She'll primarily work with the running backs and also assist with quality control.
To many, she's a pioneer for women in professional football as the first full-season African American female coach in the NFL. But to King, the journey towards her ultimate goal has just begun.
"I would love to be a coordinator," King told Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael on "Redskins Nation" on Tuesday. "I know now I'm at the bottom of the food chain, but I've been moving up and I'm learning a lot and I'm super excited to be here and work with [offensive coordinator] Scott [Turner] and his staff."
Growing up in Reidsville, North Carolina, King was actually a Redskins fan before the Panthers arrived in Charlotte in 2005. As an aspiring quarterback, she remembers Doug Williams and Mark Rypien leading Washington to Super Bowl victories in 1988 and 1992, respectively.
"Those are my guys," King said from the studio inside Redskins Park. "I loved watching those guys."
Following a sports-dominated childhood, King went on to play basketball and softball at nearby Guilford College before joining the Carolina Phoenix, a women's tackle football team. From 2006-17, she was a seven-time All-American quarterback and wide receiver and operated in four different offenses.
She's also coached women's basketball and football and thrived in both roles. As an assistant at Greensboro College, she helped the team go 136-54 and secure five conference titles from 2006-16. That sustained success earned her the head coaching job at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, a role she held for three seasons. In 2018, she was named USCAA Division II National Coach of the Year after leading the Wildcats to their first-ever national championship.
She honed her football knowledge by attending NFL coaching clinics from 2015-18 and participating in the highly selective NFL Women's Forum at the 2018 Pro Bowl. That's where she met Rivera, then the head coach of the Panthers, and she impressed Rivera so much that he asked her to speak to his players in the spring. An inspirational speech quickly gave way to a coaching internship offer, and for the next two offseasons she was a part of the staff, first working with the wide receivers and then helping out with the running backs in 2019.
"Jennifer is a bright young coach and will be a great addition to our staff," Rivera said in a press release announcing her position with the Redskins. "Her familiarity with my expectations as a coach and my firsthand knowledge of her work ethic and preparation were big factors in bringing her to the Redskins."
Having broken into the field of her dreams, King began building her resume as a football coach. Between offseasons with the Panthers, she was the assistant wide receivers coach and a special teams assistant for the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football. Before the league folded, the Hotshots were 5-3 and ranked second in yards and points per game.
This past fall, she served as an offensive assistant at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Unsurprisingly, the program finished 9-1 and captured the Ivy League Championship.
"I really am excited for Coach King and being part of the staff," running backs coach Randy Jordan said on Wednesday's episode of "The Rundown." "The thing that matters is, 'What do you bring to the table?' Her expertise, the things that she's done, winning national championships. The athlete -- she's played football before. The thing that I'm excited about is that we're going to have someone in the room that can be a sounding board instead of me or another coach and bring a different perspective."
King is excited to work with Jordan and the rest of the coaching staff, many of whom were her coworkers in Carolina. She knows Rivera has high standards, and she learned during her time with the Panthers that if everyone meets those standards, positive results will follow. The expectation will be the same in Washington as Rivera attempts to rebuild the franchise and change the culture.
To maximize her contributions, King will lean on more than a decade of playing experience and a long track record of coaching success.
She'll also draw from her four years as a police officer in High Point, North Carolina. In this position, she learned how to treat a wide variety of people and realized that not all wrongdoers are bad citizens. No two days were the same, either, which prepared her for the unexpected and ever-changing nature of the NFL.
While King works towards becoming the NFL's first female coordinator, many women will be following her journey. She never saw herself as a role model, but the constant messages suggest otherwise.
She now accepts that label and does not take the responsibility lightly, aiming to inspire others embarking on a similar path.
"It's important for me to realize that I'm kind of standing on the shoulders of a lot of people myself -- people I looked up to," King said. "So, it's important for me to have that positive attitude and outlook for people looking up to me."