Roseanna Smith made a decision she’ll never regret when she took the plunge in the summer of 1999 and joined her high school football team in Davenport, Iowa.
Twenty-one years later, she is as close to the game as ever and spends as much time giving back as a community coach at West Hall High.
Every step in between has been a constant stream of her conquering fear and doing everything possible it takes to be successful.
And if she can be an inspiration for more girls to step out of their comfort zone and play football, then that’s just the icing on the cake.
“Football is for everyone because everyone can benefit by learning how to conquer hard things,” said Smith, who played professionally for five seasons in Atlanta, while also working full-time as vice president of communications for the American Junior Golf Association, in Braselton.
As a community coach, Smith has a hand in everything for the Spartans, except for calling plays. Down the road, she’ll leave the door open to making it a full-time job.
Smith will assist with different position groups in practice. She will dissect film with younger players. On game day, after a long day at work, she will get her hands dirty with all the logistics that go into making it a good Friday night experience for all the Spartans players.
She will help with washing smelly high school football uniforms. Give players a ride home. Or maybe bring some food from work so players will have something to nibble on.
She knows anything she can do to pay it forward will be a blessing to someone down the road.
“I want to do everything I can do in football because it’s my way of giving back to the game I owe forever for the opportunities it created in my life,” she said.
A ‘happy accident’
Smith is not new to the football scene in northeast Georgia. However, it was a totally random encounter that led to her first role with Winder-Barrow High, way back in 2010.
She was looking to unload sunscreen from work to anyone who might need it.
“I’m from the Midwest, so we don’t throw anything away,” she said with a laugh.
She reached out to Winder-Barrow football coach David Wagner, who would be the first to take her up on the offer for free sunblock.
When the two got to talking, Smith got him into a conversation about football, explaining she played for a season in Iowa, then played five seasons in Atlanta (2007-2011) and won a national championship with the Women’s National Team in 2011.
Smith would be on the staff at Winder-Barrow for three seasons (2011-2013), before taking three years away from coaching.
When they ran into each other again, at a funeral for a former colleague, she joined up at Flowery Branch High for two seasons (2015-16).
When Wagner moved to West Hall, she joined the Spartans program in 2017, the final season with Tony Lotti in charge.
In 2020, she marked four years at West Hall and has seen players she knew in its middle school program rise to become successful varsity players.
“Football is a game that’s for everyone, but not everyone has stuck around,” Smith said. “It’s cool to see the ones who have and become successful. They’re going to go on to become great human beings and leaders.”
Smith relishes the time around football.
With so many professional responsibilities, helping in the development of the future crop of golf stars, it's a juggling act.
However, she’s completely focused on football when she steps on campus at West Hall on afternoons when she is able to attend.
Not only does Smith want players to know the intricacies of football, but she also wants them to enjoy it.
Still, some days don’t permit enough time to get over to football practice. Working in Braselton, she’s responsible for helping promote youth golf, as well as orchestrating its 130 annual tournaments in 35 states. Also, Smith produces the 500-person dinner that comes at the end of the tour season, in November.
Over the years, she’s seen Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, just to name a few, when they were up-and-coming stars.
“One of the side benefits of the job is getting the know these kids before they’re cool,” Smith said.
Travel is also a big part of the job, taking up about 120 days a year, which can cut into her football time at West Hall.
In high school, Smith had an interest in journalism, which became her major at the University of Iowa. She went on earn a master’s degree in sports administration, also at Iowa.
Fulfilling a dream
Smith said it was a personal journey to join the football team at West High.
Some questioned why she would wait until her senior season to play football. Generally, she felt the community, to begin with, was indifferent to having a female football player.
However, for her, it was about much more than bending gender stereotypes, even though she burst with joy when Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller became the first female in play in a game among Power 5 schools in 2020.
Out of it all, Smith learned she could persevere over long odds.
“My perspective is that football should be for everyone, but not everyone has the ability or makes the choice to do what it demands,” she said.
In 1999, she played a variety of positions at West High and appeared in all but one game, she recalled.
It didn’t start particularly easy for her playing football. Since she didn’t decide to join the team until after spring ball, Smith had to do extra workouts to earn a spot.
Then, in the first practice, she had to hold the pads for a kid named Jason Foley, who was one of the toughest players on the team.
At first, she held her own. Then the position coach got in his face with an ultimatum to do better or go home.
That drew a response from him, and she ended up getting put flat on her back.
It turned out to be one of the defining moments for Smith and reinforcement to keep showing up.
“Football, in those moments, when you’re destroyed, you have to decide how you will react,” Smith said. “When it gets hard, do you stick with it?”
The season came full circle, for Smith, when she won a bet with a teammate and put a pancake block on a player from another team.
She also drew an enthusiastic reaction, when she made a play, causing her defensive line coach to jump up and down.
As an undersized one-year high school player, Smith never thought it would lead playing opportunities after high school. Those weight-room sessions also spurred an interest in powerlifting.
As a budding writer, she used the power of the pen to reflect on the experience playing football.
When the season ended, Smith wrote her high school coach, Paul Flynn, a letter and expressed sincere appreciation for the chance to play. A couple years later, she wrote him another letter of appreciation. Smith’s mother would run into Flynn at a Walgreens, and he said those letters went in a box as a keepsake.
Smith said the list of people who have been in her corner grows longer every year.
Wagner is at the top of the list for taking a chance and letting her join his staff at Winder-Barrow.
Smith also had a special connection with Lotti during the one season they worked together at West Hall. On the current staff, Montgomery, Wayne Jones, Matt Riden, Travis Raley and Will Gross have also made a big impact on her path.
“I appreciate anything I can do to make the team more successful,” Smith said.