PITTSFORD – With her hair pulled back in a low braided bun and arms crossed over her chest, Phoebe Schecter is all business during Bills practice.
Schecter, a coaching intern working with the tight ends, has been a steady fixture during training camp at St. John Fisher College. As the six tight ends vying for a spot on the team ran through drills, there she was too, every step of the way.
A good rep gets no reaction. A bad one gets a shake of the head as she springs into action to help them correct it. As soon as the horn blows and the drill is over, she grabs the equipment and then turns around and sprints off to follow the tight ends as they head to the other side of the field.
Schecter, 28, is always on the move, whether it be at training camp or in life.
This week, she wrapped up her second year as a coaching intern at Bills camp. She was selected through the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, and was one of six female coaching interns in the league.
Last week, the Raiders hired Kelsey Martinez as the league's only female strength and conditioning coach. Katie Sowers, a former Walsh Diversity intern, is in her second season with the San Francisco 49ers, as an offensive assistant.
Schecter is not only helping players break through on the field but also helping a future generation of women break through into coaching.
“It’s so exciting,” Schecter said. “I feel so fortunate to be able to come back here and spend this year with the tight ends. … I just feel so lucky that I get to be around football 24/7.”
After leaving camp last year, she went on to coach at Bryant University in Rhode Island, then to California to work with Stanford during spring practice. In between, there were trips to Europe, where she plays linebacker for the men’s squad of the Staffordshire Surge and Birmingham Lions, in addition to being the captain of the Great Britain women’s team.
The coaching opportunities in the United States have been fueled by the Women's Careers in Football Forum, which has been held during the Pro Bowl for the past two years. Schecter was one of 50 qualified women invited both years, and she was able to spend the event learning from and speaking with coaches on the college and professional level.
The goal of the program is to make it normal practice to hire female coaches, and not something that is noteworthy or out of the ordinary.
Sam Rapoport, the NFL senior director of football development, oversees the growth of women in football. She credits the Bills for being at the forefront of this movement.
“I really feel as though, and in speaking with several executives at the Bills, it's not about hiring women,” Rapoport said. “They firmly believe in hiring the best person for the job. If you believe in that concept, you believe that you have to consider the entire population. I don’t think we or anyone wants clubs to hire women, the thought is can we consider the entire pool of candidates?”
Kathryn Smith, a special teams quality control coach with the Bills in 2016, was the league's first full-time female assistant coach. Kathleen Wood spent time as an intern in the Bills' scouting department last summer and also interned with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The daughter of an American father and a British mother, Schecter was born in Connecticut and never had any interest in football growing up. She moved to England to pursue her first love, horses, when she was 23, but a Facebook advertisement introduced her to football, her second love.
“I had moved over to the UK and didn’t know anybody so I thought give it a try,” she said. “I think when you are uncomfortable you take risks and I did.”
Soon, she was coaching and playing on a full-time basis.
“I think playing in the UK has given me so much, and I just want to give back,” she said. “That’s been my involvement in American football. Whether it be in America or in the UK, I just want to help others fall in love with football and get better."
She stayed in touch with Bills coach Sean McDermott and the other coaches throughout the year, and that's part of what led to her getting a call to come back to camp this summer.
“I think it speaks volumes that Coach McDermott brought her back for a second opportunity,” Rapoport said. “That certainly speaks to how she performed last year at training camp and the path he sees for her. He speaks very highly of her and believes that she has the talent and what it takes to make it as an NFL coach.”
Her duties with the Bills completed, Schecter is on the move once again. She’s heading back to England to continue her work in the NFL UK, where she works with communities and grassroots efforts to help build the sport in Europe.
Her goal is to be back in the U.S. soon, as a coaching intern or maybe even a full-time coach.
“The (organization) here has been incredible in helping me become a better coach, as well as the players,” Schecter said. “I think when you get an opportunity like this to be completely immersed in football you can’t not love it.”