By Hunter Carroll
When Kjahna O was in first grade, she was the only girl who played in her school’s recess football league.
She made her mark as the team captain and quarterback, and sparked a life-long love for the sport. When she and her family moved to Los Angeles, she would watch football games at her mother’s alma mater, USC. From afar, she admired the team at her father’s alma mater, Alabama – so she saw a lot of great football.
O always intended to pursue a legal career, and she set a goal of going to law school when she was in eighth grade.
“I never saw any women in sports, so I asked myself, ‘How can I get there?’” O said. “I thought about my experience interning with law firms from high school and undergraduate years, and decided to potentially go to law school and become general counsel for a team.”
After earning her undergraduate degree from Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina – where O set multiple records on the swim team – she finally took the step she had been waiting for, and was accepted to law school.
Just before the semester started, she questioned whether a law degree was the best way to get a job in football – she was caught between a long time dream and a lifelong passion. She decided to put law school on hold and started researching the best graduate programs to get a job in college or professional football
“I told myself if I wanted to go to law school, I would go next year, but I wanted to take time for myself and figure out what I really wanted to do.”
She ended up at the University of South Carolina, where the professors in the master’s sports management program had impressive careers in the sports industry, and football in particular.
There was Danny Morrison, the former president of the Carolina Panthers; Susan O’Malley, the first female president of a professional sports franchise; and Tom Regan, who has conducted economic impact studies for the Denver Broncos.
While learning from industry experts, O also worked with the Gamecocks football program on recruiting and personnel. She learned the ins and outs of the recruiting process – from setting up check-in areas for prospective athletes, to measuring them, to watching film for the coaching staff and to look for prospects.
“I knew if I walked up to any university and asked to work for them, the answer would probably be no, but if I were a student, they would be more than happy to give me a position,” she said.
Not only did she gain professional experience working in football, but KJ also built a great relationship with her professors. They knew about her goals and saw how motivated she was to work in football. She wanted to be a director of college scouting for an NFL team, and she discussed her plans
During a conversation with Dr. Morrison, KJ mentioned that she applied for a player personnel internship for the summer of 2020 in the NFL league office in New York.
“Since I had created relationships with my professors, he said, ‘Write me an email, make it professional, and I will forward it to the league office.’”
KJ’s application was part of a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, which were quickly cut down to 200, and then to a final 10. The NFL took an interest in her application because of the note from Morrison, and word got out in the league office that there was a girl who was interested in player personnel.
After various interviews, the NFL reached out the KJ, informing her that she got the internship. She was thrilled, but this was not the most important news she heard that day.
KJ received an invite to the Women’s Careers in Football Forum at the 2020 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Because of this opportunity, KJ declined the internship with the league office and instead attended the forum. She was interviewed by five teams, and the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts offered her summer positions in training camp.
While this was welcome news for KJ, she was still finishing her master’s at South Carolina. She told the Colts she would take the job and let them know that she still had a year of school.
In order to finish classes before the start of the season, KJ doubled up on her coursework, taking six classes compared to the average graduate student who takes three.
A week before moving to Indianapolis to begin her work in operations and scouting, KJ got a call from a random number asking if she wanted to interview with the Falcons for a scouting assistant position.
That number ended up belonging to Thomas Dimitroff, the former general manager of the Atlanta Falcons.
The Colts granted KJ permission to interview with the Falcons. She was offered the job just a few days later.
Now with the Falcons, KJ spends most of her time watching film, making reels of college prospects, watching players at practices and writing evaluations to send to coaches, and keeping track of who is signed, cut, released, and traded.