Florida's first female varsity football coach hits field on first day of spring practice

Florida's first female varsity football coach hits field on first day of spring practice

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Florida's first female varsity football coach hits field on first day of spring practice

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Miami Jackson High coach Lakatriona “Bernice” Brunson (Photo: Walter Villa, Special for USA TODAY Sports)

Miami Jackson High coach Lakatriona “Bernice” Brunson (Photo: Walter Villa, Special for USA TODAY Sports)

MIAMI — Lakatriona “Bernice” Brunson said she misses being a tow-truck driver and still picks up occasional gigs, doing so as recently as three or four weeks ago.

In that line of work, Brunson, who starred on the truTV reality series South Beach Tow, said it was common for irate car owners to pull guns on her.

She hasn’t let that stop her, though, even now.

“When my boys call me and they need a stakeout at night, I don’t mind,” Brunson said of tow-truck business. “I miss the action.”

Brunson’s current full-time job as a high school physical education teacher is comparatively tame, but there will be adrenaline flowing this fall when she makes her debut as the head coach of Miami’s Jackson High School varsity football team.

Brunson became the first female head football coach in Florida history, and at least the fifth woman hired around the nation in the last three years.

Beyond her reality TV fame, her defensive coordinator also can be found on YouTube — Luther Campbell, the former lead rapper of 2 Live Crew. The combination could make this one of the more intriguing teams to watch this fall as they attempt to rebuild a Jackson program that went 3-6 last season and has not won a state title since 1952.

Brunson, 38, said she is happy if what she has accomplished “opens doors” for other women.

“A lot of women have asked me, ‘Can I come coach with you?’ “ she said.

“I would like to see other women coaching. I think they can do it. There are a lot of ladies who know football inside and out, but they haven’t gotten a chance.”

Since she was hired in February, she has put the boys through their paces during conditioning drills. Monday, the team was officially on the field for the first time with the start of spring practices.

“I’ve been pounding them in the weight room and on this track,” Brunson said of her approach to conditioning. “You have to build their muscles. We’re trying to build a smash-mouth team, and they have to be ready for that pounding.”

At 5-9, Brunson played football for the Miami Fury, a team that competed in the Independent Women’s Football League. A former lineman, linebacker and fullback, she has also served as an assistant coach in girls’ basketball and a head coach for girls’ flag football, both at Jackson.

Does she have the respect of the 45 players who were on the field? The school declined to make players available to the media, but Campbell said Brunson is already making an impression.

“It’s up to each individual coach to gain respect based on your knowledge of the game and how you conduct yourself,” Campbell said. “And I think she’s done that.”

Campbell brings extensive football experience to the staff. This is his 15th year in coaching and his eighth at the high school level. He previously served as defensive coordinator at three of the top programs in Miami – Central, Northwestern and Norland.

The Jackson job came open when former Miami Hurricanes and NFL defensive back Earl Little resigned. Little, who is now the head coach at Miami’s Westminster Christian, went 9-11 in two years at Jackson.

Campbell likely would have been a candidate to be head coach had he been a certified teacher in the Miami-Dade County public school system. But since he is not, Brunson applied and got the job.

When the entire team was brought together Monday, Campbell’s voice was the loudest, and Brunson mostly observed at least on Day 1.

“You’ve got to learn from somebody,” Brunson said. “I’ve got a great staff around me. Whatever I don’t know, we pick up on, and we’re good.”

During practice, the players were separated into five groups, each with one coach. Campbell worked with the defensive players, and Joshua Bush, who will call the plays, ran things on the offensive side.

Brunson, who will focus primarily on special teams, worked initially with five offensive linemen on a patch of grass next to the outdoor basketball courts, away from the school’s only football field.

Campbell was asked if he were bothered by the reporters and TV cameras who are sure to follow Jackson this year because of the novelty of having a female football coach.

“That’s the way of the world right now – everything is about gender,” Campbell said. “It’s a good thing.

“But to me, I don’t see it’s anything different. Once you know about coaching football, you’re just coaching your position and getting your guys better.

“Anything else, whoever the head coach is, it really doesn’t matter, whether it’s a woman or a man or whatever it may be.”

Brunson inherits a program that has been known to have some talented athletes. But the Generals have lost 12 of the past 13 “Soul Bowls”, its annual rivalry game against the Northwestern Bulls.

Brunson graduated from Northwestern, where she played basketball as a 5-8½ forward and also threw the shot put and discus on the track team. At Tennessee State, she also played basketball and track.

“The Soul Bowl is going to be something to see this year,” Brunson said.

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Florida's first female varsity football coach hits field on first day of spring practice
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