Janice Pettyjohn has made history as the first woman hired for a full-time football position at Howard University, Burlington County Times reports.
Pettyjohn’s love for arts has always taken precedence since health issues prevented her from playing youth sports as a child. But as she got older and went on to attend Lumberton Middle School, she realized she had to find some way to get involved in the school’s extracurricular activities.
“No one wants to come right home after school; you want something to do. So I started managing the basketball team in seventh grade, then I did it in eighth grade, and it ended up just becoming something that I loved without realizing that I loved because it just became second nature,” Pettyjohn recalled.
The South Jersey native held on to that basketball manager career well into high school, eventually becoming the Rancocas Valley Regional High School (RVRHS) football team manager. By that time, people had started to notice her ability, not only in managing the team but also in juggling her studies.
“She was always organized, she took on a ton of tasks, and we never had to worry about game set up…I watch Janice work really, really, hard…[in a] college-level honors course. That’s when I really got to see the determination and the grit she exhibited as a student as well,” the former RVRHS head coach said.
In 2017, Pettyjohn graduated from high school, heading to Howard University to pursue an undergraduate degree in sports medicine. However, it was only a short time before she found her way to the Bison football team. Former head coach Mike London offered her an undergraduate position doubling as a graphic designer and equipment manager.
Before long, Pettyjohn was working with operations and the sports information department. When Larry Scott took over for London, he gave Pettyjohn recruitment responsibilities, and she began to feel more and more like an employee and not just a student.
“I was always the person kind of with that mentality like that if it has to get done, I’m going to be the one that gets it done… Despite the fact that I was [a student] at the time…He gave me the same responsibilities that he was doing and little did I know that he and coach Scott both were preparing me for this job that they wanted me to have once I graduated,” Pettyjohn explained.
She graduated from Howard’s Sports Medicine Residency program in 2021, also earning a minor in sociology. Initially, Pettyjohn thought about attending medical school, quickly deciding against it after realizing it wasn’t for her. She was offered a full-time position with the Bison football team, making history as the first woman to be hired for a full-time football position at the illustrious HBCU.
In her new position, Pettyjohn serves as assistant director of football operations, also taking on the director of on-campus recruiting. The work was created specifically for her. She can join in the recruiting process and give campus tours, run operations, maintain football facilities, and assist with event coordination. She doesn’t take the historic accomplishment for granted and says she’s super grateful for the coaches’ belief in her and their ability to help her navigate the new position while building rapport with them.
“I’m super grateful for this position. Being 22 years old and getting a full-time job at Howard fresh out of college – it’s rare. Coach Scott saw the potential in me… I’m 22, about to be 23, doing what some 30 years old’s are just getting started doing. You’re finding coaches on staff who have coached in the NFL, who have played in the NFL. Coaches, who I’m not going to say ages necessarily, are over the age of 40 and 50 and have been in this game for quite some time. So it was a matter of building trust.
RVRHS Principal Joseph Martin has congratulated his former student, joining the chorus of mentors, staff, coaches, etc., that steadily remind Pettyjohn of her greatness. Martin believes her lived experience will bring a particular nuance to the work that allows her to better connect with players and support them in the best way possible.
“To me, what really grabbed me was that this is a story of a young, strong woman finding such tremendous career opportunities in a male-dominated sport/industry… Janice’s future goals will better level the playing field for athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing them with training, healthcare, and other supports that will help them succeed both on and off the field. Those goals are what we are most proud to celebrate at RV when we share Janice’s story,” Martin said.