TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Ester Alencar plays quarterback for the Brazilian women’s flag football national team and coaches QBs on the men’s squad.

Southeastern University defensive coordinator William Henry wrote 383 letters to colleges and NFL teams trying to get his foot in the door.

Candice Davis-Price won a gold medal as a hurdler for Team USA and is the performance coach at Belleville High School in Michigan.

The trio of aspiring NFL coaches joined 22 other candidates recently at the inaugural Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Coaching Academy. It was a unique opportunity for a diverse group that included two international participants and five women selected from more than 1,500 applicants.

“The vision this organization has and the way they organized this whole experience is incredible,” said Alencar, who fell in love with football at age 11 and started playing on tackle teams at 17.

“The lesson that stood out for me is you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Our terminology for plays is much shorter than NFL play-calling so being out there on the field, seeing this formation or that motion is uncomfortable but I’m learning it. Or even communicating in the middle of 25 great coaches can be uncomfortable but we’re learning to navigate this.”

The Buccaneers will select five of the participants to move into the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship for training camp and preseason. The fellowship program was launched in 2012 and is designed to increase the number of full-time NFL minority coaches. All of the NFL’s 32 teams participate in the program and the selection process varies.

Buccaneers co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz was the driving force behind the organization’s goal to host the first-of-its-kind NFL coaching academy. Since 1996, the Glazer family has led the NFL in diverse hiring practices. During the Glazers’ ownership, the Buccaneers are the only team to hire four Black head coaches and the first to have two female coaches on the same staff.

“It’s always been a priority for my family to hire the best possible person to coach the Buccaneers,” Glazer Kassewitz told The AP. “Making it to the NFL is very challenging and there are so many talented coaches out there who are trying to get in. My family wanted to open doors and create new pathways for new talented coaches.”

The weeklong academy gave participants an opportunity to gain on-field experience throughout the team’s rookie minicamp, including a chance to work with players during team and positional drills. The coaches were immersed in interactive sessions, business insights, media training, film review and instruction on key football software with players, coaches and staff.

Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Super Bowl champion coach Bruce Arians and Hall of Fame cornerback Ronde Barber spoke to the group, offering advice and wisdom. They also heard from four NFL executives, including Troy Vincent, Dasha Smith, Jonathan Beane and Sam Rapoport.

“Your compromise today becomes your standard tomorrow,” Vincent told them.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht, coach Todd Bowles and several coaches also addressed and interacted with the candidates. Bowles and his staff provided exclusive inside access, including play sheets.

“Our coaches chose to do this during minicamp in order to provide a genuine experience. This just lends itself to their dedication and how invested they are in helping these coaching candidates get into the NFL,” Glazer Kassewitz said.

Bowles had an open-door policy throughout the week, giving the academy coaches an opportunity to walk into his office to discuss schemes, review practice tape and more.

“In order for this to work, you have to have a full coaching experience,” Bowles said. “They really got into the coaching part of it. You see their personalities when they get into the coaching and I thought that was great to see. So it’s going to be interesting once we get together as a staff to see who exactly fits what we do to bring back in here.”

The five participants selected for the fellowship will get an immediate shot to continue making an impression. The others will walk away with new experience, new relationships and a bigger network that could lead to future opportunities.

“Everybody seems genuinely invested in the success of the organization and your success as an individual, whether they bring you on board or not,” Henry said. “There have even been people in some of the sessions who have said: ‘Take my contact information. If I can help you with whatever down the road, call me.'”

Coming to Tampa Bay was a full circle moment for Davis-Price. Her husband, Brian Price, played defensive tackle for two seasons for the Buccaneers after being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.

She was an elite athlete who went to USC during Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush’s time at the school and ran track for nine years for Team USA.

“The level of care that they have here for the players and their safety, that’s been reiterated from coaching staff, position staff, to the training staff to the conditioning,” Davis-Price said. “What’s the safety of our guys before we just jump in and, as an athlete, I value that protection.”

Davis-Price called the academy experience “absolutely insane” and her biggest takeaway was the value the Buccaneers have for women. Under Arians, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar became the first female coaches on a team that won a Super Bowl.

“First off, you see Darcie in the building. Every single meeting we’ve been in, she has been in,” Davis-Price said. “That’s been huge. She’s present but she’s not micromanaging. She’s here to really show how much she cares.”

The Glazers plan to make the academy an annual event and hope other teams will be inspired to offer a similar program.

“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Bowles said. “We’re not doing it for publicity. We’re doing it to try to find some very good coaches to bring on the staff, and as an organization, we’re trying to better the league. Obviously, it’s more than just a diverse program. Everyone’s allowed in here and it really helps us become better coaches because now we’re seeing different styles of coaches from different places and we’re learning things as well.”

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