Stephanie Balochko grew up rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers since she was a little girl. She dreamed of being a coach from a young age despite the male domination of the sport.
Balochko played linebacker for 15 years in a few different leagues, most recently for the Pittsburgh Passion, a women’s tackle football team in the Women’s Football Alliance.
But Balochko’s passions extend past just football. As a full-time firefighter and paramedic, she loves to help people, which lends itself well to coaching. According to Yahoo! Sports, during the last few years of her playing career Balochko suffered from some injuries that kept her out of the game, but allowed her to contribute to the team in a different manner through coaching.
After her playing career, Balochko spent time as as defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Fusion and Pittsburgh Passion. She had dreams of making it to the NFL, but didn’t think it was a realistic possibility until the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter, making her the first female coaching intern in the NFL. She eagerly sent her resume to the Steelers’ coaching staff, and was able to meet with assistant head coach and defensive line coach John Mitchell. The pair kept in touch and Balochko continued to attend Steelers training camp to observe practice plays and visit with coaches.
In 2016, Balochko’s hope had become a reality, as her hometown team invited her to join the end of the 2016 training camp and the first preseason game as a coaching intern.
“It was amazing to get the call,” Balochko told the Steelers. “Not only do I love football and everything about it, learning about it and advancing it, but I am a huge Steelers fan. Not only was it a great call to get because I want to coach, but to be with the team you love is unbelievable.”
Balochko worked alongside Mitchell, and was able to work with players, break down film, and attend meetings. Mitchell, who now works as assistant head coach, admired Balochko’s work ethic and knowledge, and wanted to make sure she was getting the. most out of her experience with the team.
“This young lady is really serious about football,” Mitchell said. “She was very attentive at every meeting. She wasn’t shy about asking questions. I was very impressed with her. I told her if you see something that you think can help the guys, go tell them and they’ll be receptive, but only if you know what you are talking about. She did. She is a student of the game. She has done as well as any intern we have had.”
Balcohko returned as an intern for four years, while also juggling defensive coordinator duties for Team USA women’s football, which won a gold medal at the IFAF Women’s World Championship in 2017, and her full-time job as a firefighter and paramedic. Her time with the NFL confirmed what she already knew about men’s and women’s football.
“Women’s football is 99% the same as their football, we are just learning and growing with it,” she told USA Football. “We are there at the ultimate level.”
She continues to use her experience with the Steelers to shape her into a better defensive and position-minded coach. She’d like to one day be a full-time defensive coordinator in the NFL.
“I chose a path that wasn’t conventional for women, but it’s what I want to do and if I wanted to do it, I was going to get the job done,” Balochko told USA Football. There is always a way to accomplish your goal you just have to find that way, if you can’t find it, make it.”
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