When I had heard that this year’s version of the Women’s World Football Games was at the New Orleans Saints Facilities, I knew I had to go. It’s not like I wasn’t already planning on it but that made me want to jump for joy. Never before has an NFL team open its doors to the idea of women playing football in this capacity. The fact that they even had Drew Brees give a little welcome video that they posted on Facebook got me even more excited.
I had already known I was going to team up with LeAnn Layman from the Everett Reign to travel with again. We had actually met the 1st time when we went to the 1st version of this camp and have been travel buddies ever since. At that camp it had been me, her, and Liani Reyna from the Portland Shockwave as the only representatives from the Northwest Region. This year we went gangbusters and brought around 20 players from Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, and Portland. This made me very happy as I have tried for years to get more people to go to these things and finally they got to experience what I was so animated about.
Getting a week off of work and the finances together to go was not easy but worth the effort. I flew out early Monday morning on the 29th. LeAnn, Nikki, and Sarah from Everett were all the same flight out as me which was nice. We flew from Seattle to Houston and I passed out on the flight the whole way there. We were in Houston for about 45 minutes when we ran into 2 players from Canada who were going to be on the next flight with us. We of course took pictures and talked football. We boarded the next plane from Houston to New Orleans and landed around 3:30PM.
We picked up our bags and went to the car rental place to run into the Canadians again. Liani landed a few minutes later and we took 2 cars full of players to the host hotel which is where we were staying. It was a Marriott and all the staff there were very helpful the whole week. We checked in and decided to investigate places for dinner. Somehow I ended being the restaurant finder and discovered a place called Zea Rotisserie that looked promising. Little did I know how great the food would be. I’m pretty sure we all traded food from each other’s plates and talked about how great everything was for the entire meal. Our waiter was a mini tour guide of the area. Our trip was off to a running start.
Before we had left for the trip, they had set up a mentor and mentee program. Having played for a long time, I volunteered to be a mentor and got aligned with Dianne from the Pittsburgh Passion. She is a rookie linebacker and it was very fun to get to know her and make sure she felt comfortable. We stopped at a bar near the hotel that had pool and met some of the other Passion players.
The next day was a light day with mainly just registration and meetings so me and few others decided that night was a good night to go out and check out Bourbon Street. We drove down there and I decided quickly that I loved the area. The old historic buildings and the eccentric doorways and windows made for an interesting feel. We settled on a bar with dancefloor and a mix of live and recorded music. We ran into other players from other teams and countries and did a little dancing. We didn’t stay out too late or have too much fun but it was nice to get out.
The next morning the group in my room decided to go to visit the New Orleans Zoo. LeAnn was very excited because they had a white Tiger. We got our zoo tickets, had lunch, and proceeded to walk all around the zoo to check out the animals, take lots of pictures, and enjoy the yellow thing in the sky called the sun. When we got to the white Tiger exhibit, we took a bit longer to take in its beauty and try to get pictures.
Taylor Hay from St. Louis was also with us. Since she had been so kind in letting me stay with her in San Diego for that camp, we decided to adopt her into our Northwest Region group for the week.
To my great sadness, they did not have a polar bear exhibit, which is my favorite, but we did see a white alligator which was pretty awesome. When we got to the gift shop I quickly learned that Michele from Everett might be the baby alligator whisperer as you can see from the picture below.
We left the zoo to go to the facilities to register. Having been to these events before, I already knew how well they were organized and put together. I know from firsthand experience that checking out so much gear to many people could be cause for chaos but they seem to really have the logistics down. We filled out forms, got our bags full of shirts, shorts, jerseys, etc, and got fitted for a helmet. The coolest thing about the helmets at these camps is that when you are issued one, they put decals of your country’s flag on the side. So when you look across the field you see all the countries and their flags.
We then had a welcoming speech by Sam Rapoport, all the coaches, and Saints staff. The Saint staff brought out the Lambordi Trophy from their recent Super Bowl win which was amazing.
We then broke off into our position groups and went to the position meeting rooms. Going into where the Saints Linebackers sit and study was extremely cool. We got introduced to our coaches and all the players in our group. I believe we had around 30-32 linebackers from all over the world and different skill levels.
The following morning we woke up, had breakfast and got to the facilities for the 1st practice. The schedule for the remainder of the week would include 2 practices a day, player development portions with speeches, and positional meeting times. Essentially, it’s a full work day of football. The 1st day we first went over USA Heads Up tackling progressions. Having played 10 years, I’ve been taught different variations in tackling. I’ve been through Heads Up tackling before which I do believe to be a strong program. My team goes through training on the Seahawks version. They are both good programs. They are slightly different in angles and footwork however so I had to remind myself which variation I was doing.
Due to the fact there were 224 women from 17 countries at this camp, they had to split lunch times into two groups. The 1st day, the offense ate first and the defense hung out and then we switched. When it was time for us to eat was pretty awesome to be eating the same cafeteria that the players do. The food was actually very good. It was organized well and healthy.
Even though I have played a long time, I come to these camps because I still learn new things all the time. People coach football for 40 years and still learn new things. It’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. I get challenged more than just physically. It was no different at this camp. The coaches were knowledgeable and brought a lot of energy. I had a great time trying out new drills and getting better.
Other highlights of the trip include Wednesday night, I went with Nikki and Amelia to stay at Bourbon Street Hotel which is supposed to be one the most haunted locations in the country. The hotel itself is absolutely gorgeous with its ornate decorations. You can see why it was a place that a lot of high society people came to watch events and dance in the ballroom. We sat in the bar for a short bit and watched a jazz band play before we decided to do a quick investigation. We staked out where the supposed hot spots were and went walking.
The carpet in the hotel is the type that makes you feel like you are in a fun house because it all looks the same and you feel like you have been there before even though you haven’t. At this point, we were all sore and tired but still curious. This hotel was previously an orphanage and convent and ghosts of children are said to roam the halls. There has also been sightings of a confederate soldier. I did feel a weird presence on the 3rd floor but not much else. I do believe we were all so tired that we kind of just passed out. We will have to return when we have more energy to investigate further.
One of the days early in the week, Jen Welter came to visit. She gave us a speech and did some coaching my linebacker group. She is definitely a firey and knowledgeable coach. It was good to get some input from someone who has the perspective of both playing in our sport and coaching NFL players too. We also, had a visit from a few Saints players including Jeff Tabb, Travries Cadet, and Zach Streif.
We also had a visit by Michael Lewis, who is also known as the Beerman. He told us his inspiring story about how he played football in high school but never actually played in college. He played semi pro and arena and at one point was driving a beer delivery truck before he broke through into the NFL and ended up in the Saints Hall of Fame for his return and receiving yards.
We also had the New Orleans Saints Nutrition person came to talk to us about how she helps set up plans for the individual players. In the back of the weight room they have a nutrition bar with individualized smoothies and food. I couldn’t help but wonder at how nice that would be if when I worked out, someone was there to slide me a smoothie made just for my needs. Note to self: win the lottery.
Some of us from the Northwest group decided to go and help walk the dogs at Villalobos Rescue Center for Pit Bulls and Parolees. Apparently, there is a TV show that follows this rescue center. I no longer have cable so was out of the loop but I am a huge animal person so jumped at the chance to help dogs.
We arrived after practice and signed volunteer sheets. We then lined up about 15 feet apart and waited while the dogs came out one by one and picked which person they wanted to walk them. The dog that picked me was named Apple. She was a very sweet pitbull. We bonded and I walked her. She was pretty strong willed about where she wanted to go and I decided since she was a solid dog that she was a linebacker dog.
A couple of days into camp, we broke into 3 groups within our positions, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I was in the advanced group. This would be how they would separate out the 3 games that we would play on Sunday.
Also of note, we did have press in and out of the camp all week but the most notable was the presence of NFL Films who will be putting together a special that they will air right before the start of the next NFL season this coming fall. Needless to say, this will be huge exposure for our sport.
Saturday night, the Saints got us all tickets to see the New Orleans Pelicans play the Utah Jazz. We went to the game, got a shout out on the big screen, and had a great time.
Sunday was game day. The 1st game was at 8AM nd even though I didn’t play until the 3rd game, other people in my group played early so we had to all be there early. Taylor and I were a bit sleepy as we went to get pre-game stuff at the grocery store but we were excited. There were several other people from my home team at camp and so it was great to watch some of them play in the early games. It was also fun to root for the new friends I had made in my position group.
When it was finally time for the 3rd game people to warm up, I was notified I would be one of the starters which was pretty cool. Starting right next to me was my teammate from home, Melissa Castor and on the other side A-Train. I do believe this was a great combination. I already knew how to play with Castor and having me in the middle freed up A-Train to be her more aggressive self outside.
We were playing on the white and gold team. The black and gold team, our opponent, was supposedly the favorite but our defense completely shut them down. The defensive line was aggressive, our linebackers communicated and filled well, and the secondary made plays. It’s so much fun to play defense when everyone is clicking together. We won 20-0 and celebrated.
Unfortunately, originally the camp was supposed to end earlier in the afternoon but it went later and I had to catch my flight home. This meant I literally had to sprint off the field with my gear on, quickly strip it off, throw it into my bags, and jump into Taylor’s car so she could drive me to airport. I ran into airport, checked in, changed in airport bathroom, and barely made my flight. I passed out on the 1st leg between New Orleans and San Francisco. I passed out again between San Francisco and Seattle. I got my luggage, took a Lyft to my car, drove home, and passed out for good at 2am so I could be at work by 6am.
The whole trip was like football Christmas and I can’t wait for what other doors open because of it.
Stay tuned for a video I’m going to edit with all the video clips from the week.