JENNIFER KING ’06: TACKLING STEREOTYPES AND PUSHING BOUNDARIES
GUILFORDIANS MAY RECALL the motto used by the College’s admissions office in the early 2000s: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Jennifer King ’06 lives out that slogan, some 13 years after her graduation, as a football coach. The former two-sport standout started coaching college basketball, but her love and hunger for football, plus the willingness to risk and grind for a dream, have her on the cusp of a full-time coaching position in the National Football League (NFL).
Jennifer didn’t play or coach football at Guilford, and instead starred in basketball and softball. The Sport Management major built a network of friends and learned how to relate to people of different backgrounds and experiences.
“Entering college you come from your little bubble in high school, and then you’re suddenly somewhere where there’s all types of people,” Jennifer said. “Guilford laid the groundwork for diversity, which is huge in coaching.”
After a decorated high school career at nearby Rockingham County High School, the accolades continued to pile up in Greensboro. Jennifer earned Guilford’s top athletics honor, the Nereus C. English Athletic Leadership Award, along with the school’s 2005 Best Undergraduate Female Athlete Award. As a senior, she was named Best Female Athlete and received the Jack Jensen Ideal Student-Athlete prize.
After basketball season, Jennifer joined the Quakers’ softball team, where she was a four-year starter. She was more than an athlete at Guilford and developed administrative and relational skills through participation in different campus organizations. A resident advisor and Judicial Board member, she coordinated musical acts for Serendipity and participated with the Blacks Unifying Society club. Jennifer was chosen for a developmental coaching program sponsored by the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association of America, which helped crystallize her coaching dreams.
After graduation, she assisted the women’s basketball team at Greensboro College. She spent nine seasons with the Pride, during which time the school made four NCAA Division III Tournament appearances.
Jennifer’s Greensboro experience led to her 2016 appointment as Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Johnson & Wales University (JWU). She guided her team to the 2018 United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II title, the Charlotte school’s first national championship of any kind.
Meanwhile, her football fever grew. She studied the game, connected with the Female Coaching Network and played in the Women’s Football Association. Jennifer quarterbacked the Carolina Phoenix for nine years and earned All-America honors five times. She played with the New York Sharks in 2018 and commuted from Charlotte for weekly practices. Jennifer claimed her second national crown in less than a year as the Sharks won the WFA’s Division II title. Her experience as a player and a winner connected her with those she coaches.
“Once they learn you’ve played, I think it adds another level of validity to you,” Jennifer said. “You’ve been hit. You’ve hit people. (Players) are like, ‘OK, maybe she knows what she’s doing.’”
Jennifer’s love for football and passion for coaching increased with each new opportunity. It didn’t hurt that JWU’s campus sits next door to Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. When she was one of 50 women chosen for the NFL’s 2016 Women’s Careers in Football Forum, Jennifer seized the opportunity to make significant connections.
It’s kind of surprising to me because I started out doing this because I love football and I love coaching. It was a great opportunity for me. I didn’t set out to be any type of role model. I didn’t even think about the weight. I had no idea it would affect so many people, but it has.
She met Panthers' Head Coach Ron Rivera there, and the relationship between the downtown Charlotte neighbors led to her hire as Carolina's first female coaching intern. She worked with the team's receivers during their 2018 minicamp and impressed the Panthers enough to earn an extension through the full training camp. The experience gave Jennifer confidence to pursue her dream of coaching in the NFL.
"It's time," Ron said on WSOC-TV. "We're in a game that's very popular, and it's watched by everybody, and so it should be coached and managed by everybody."
“That’s one thing that people don’t really realize — it’s not just something that just happened for me,” Jennifer told the Panthers’ Will Bryan. “I didn’t just get this opportunity out of nowhere.” Others noticed Jennifer as well. She coached at JWU until a startup professional football league, the Alliance of American Football (AAF), called. Jennifer left the success and security of her JWU post for work as the Arizona Hotshots’ Assistant Receivers Coach. Moving across the country wasn’t a risk to Jennifer, who had worked as a police officer in High Point before taking the Greensboro College post.
The AAF folded after eight games, and Jennifer returned to the Panthers to intern with the team’s running backs through the 2019 preseason. She coached all-star Christian McCaffery and company in a preseason game when the wife of Carolina’s full-time backfield coach went into labor.
“I wasn't expecting it, but I was able to show what I'm capable of — capable of having a position," Jennifer said afterward. "I've run things before (with the Hotshots), and it was cool to get to run things with the backs.”
Jennifer now works as an Offensive Assistant at the Ivy League’s Dartmouth College. But don’t be surprised to find her back with an NFL team in the nottoo-distant future. The rise of talented women and professional football’s growing interest in gender equity has led to a handful of women working in full-time roles with NFL organizations, including Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
Jennifer keeps in touch with the growing community of female football coaches, which is no different than the networking and camaraderie found in most coaching communities. She’s committed to learning more about the profession, expanding her network and preparing for the next opportunity. She wants to make her players better and help her team to victory. She also wants to inspire the next generation of women who want to coach football.
“I’ve had people come up to me or message me saying that their little girl wants to coach football or wants to play football now,” Jennifer told WSOC-TV. “How cool is that?”