This year, Angela Baker was presented with two football opportunities that were too good for her to pass up. Fortunately for her, she will be able to do both.
In February, Baker, a Belleville resident, started as an offensive quality control coach for the New York Giants as part of the team’s Rosie Brown Minority Coaching Fellowship.
But before joining the Giants for training camp in East Rutherford, Baker will be in Vantaa, Finland, representing the U.S. Women’s Tackle Football National Team in the IFAF Women’s World Championship.
For Baker, a 5-foot-4 wide receiver, it will be her second time playing for Team USA in the IFAF Championships, which go from July 27 through Aug. 8.
Baker and director of coaching operations Laura Young hold the distinction of being the first two female coaches in Giants history.
“I’m fortunate for the support of (general manager) Joe Schoen, the Giants organization and Coach (Brian) Daboll,” said the 29-year-old Baker. “When I interviewed for the position with the Giants, I was upfront with them and told them that I still wanted to try to make this team, I aspire to make this team. I asked if that was something I’d be able to do. They assured me it wasn’t a problem.
“I’ve gotten nothing but support from all of them. Some of the coaches have messaged me and wished me luck and told me they want to tune in. I’ve been fortunate to have nothing but support from all of them.”
Baker’s journey into tackle football began during her freshman year at Slippery Rock University. A basketball and softball player at Carlynton High School outside of Pittsburgh, Baker found herself bored due to not being involved in extracurricular activities at Slippery Rock until she heard about the Pittsburgh Passion of the Women’s Football Alliance, a women’s professional tackle football league that started in 2009.
Baker played eight years with the Passion from 2012-19 and was a seven-time WFA All-American. During her time with Pittsburgh, the team won the Independent Women’s Football League National Championship in 2014 and 2015. And in 2016, Baker was named National Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Baker also played for the 2017 U.S. Team that won gold at the IFAF Women’s Championship in Canada, an experience she calls, “one of the highlights of my life to represent the country and play the sport I love.”
But when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the WFA season in 2020 and the Passion’s 2021 season as well, Baker was left to re-evaluate her future in football.
In 2020, Baker worked virtually with the Cleveland Browns for three weeks as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh Diversity Coach Fellowship program. Last year, she was a defensive quality control coach and also helped coach the kickers and punters at the University of Redlands, a Division III school, in California.
“It wasn’t really a planned retirement or a planned time to step away, but it did give me that time to figure out what I wanted to do career wise,” Baker said. “Coaching became the step I wanted to take. It removed me from the game for a little bit, but that’s why I really wanted to try out for the national team and see if I had one last shot at it before really taking this coaching thing to the next level.”
Last season, a record 12 women worked as full-time coaches in the NFL, a list that included Wayne native Sophia Lewin (who is now coaching at Princeton), as well as Callie Brownson, who is the Team USA head coach.
“It’s great to see (more women in football). I think that there’s always been a knowledge and an interest from the female perspective, but now, we’re seeing a lot more people open to the idea and opening up the doors for females to have the opportunity,” said Baker. “Just to interview and talk to people and show what they actually know I think is incredible.
“There are glass ceilings continually being broken by females in the industry, who are seeing that there are opportunities all across the NFL and NCAA.”
Whether it’s in the NFL or college, as a player or as a coach, Baker knows she has a place in football, which is right where she wants to be.
“I love the game of football and being on the field, whether it’s coaching or playing,” Baker said. “It’s just comforting and feels like home to me.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)