By ESPN NFL
MIAMI — On Sunday, San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers will become the first female member of an NFL staff to coach in a Super Bowl.
On Monday evening, Sowers was still wrapping her head around that idea.
“Being the first female in the Super Bowl, it’s surreal,” Sowers said. “It really is. But what I want to continue to say is that even though I’m the first, the most important thing is I’m not the last and we continue to grow it.”
Sowers was a popular interview for the many media members who attended Monday’s Opening Night for Super Bowl LIV. For most of the hourlong session, she was peppered with questions about her place in history, her coaching aspirations and the impact she has had on young girls around the country.
Now in her fourth season in the NFL, third with the Niners and second in her current role, Sowers got her start working with the Atlanta Falcons‘ wide receivers as a part of the team’s minority internship program in the 2016 offseason and through training camp.
In Atlanta, she worked with Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator at the time. According to Shanahan, Sowers fit right in.
“I think the neatest thing with Katie that we liked when we had her in the training camp is we’d have a guy in there that would swear and say, ‘I’m sorry Katie’ — Katie would be awkward from that and be like why would you say sorry, and we started to realize that’s what made it work,” Shanahan said. “We could all be ourselves. It didn’t have to be any different whether it was a girl or a guy, it’s just another intern trying to get a job, and Katie made everyone so comfortable in that way that I never even thought about it.”
When the Niners hired Shanahan as head coach in 2017, Sowers worked another internship and did so well in training camp that San Francisco brought her on full time as a seasonal offensive assistant.
“She’s come a long way, and she’s helped us out a lot,” Shanahan said.
One player who credits Sowers for much of his success is 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Bourne entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2017, when Sowers was in her first year with the team and working primarily with wideouts.
In his first preseason game, Bourne dropped a couple of passes and worried that his nerves were going to get the better of him — until Sowers intervened.
“I had two drops my first two targets, and she calmed me down,” Bourne said. “Just telling me to not get too overhyped and get over my head about it. I’m supposed to be there. She just gave me that reminder, and I ended up going off that. So, I always go back to that when she just calmed me down and mellowed me out. I was beating myself up about the drops, and she kind of came over and gave me that little push. I will never forget that. I tell her to this day how much that helped me.”
Bourne went on to record four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown in that contest and made the roster, and he has since become one of the Niners’ most reliable receivers, especially in the red zone.
As offensive assistant, Sowers works with the skill position players on all facets of game preparation. Quarterback Nick Mullens said Sowers “does a great job,” and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders called her “one of the coolest coaches I’ve ever been around.”
There were eight women who coached in the NFL this season, with half of them in full-time roles; but Sowers has so far had the longest tenure and now will be the first to appear on the game’s biggest stage.
As the postseason began, Sowers’ profile increased with her appearance in a commercial for the Microsoft Surface tablet in which she shares a letter she wrote to herself as a child saying she hoped to someday be on a real football team.
Now that she is, she receives and responds to notes and letters from young girls all over the country.
“Truly, a lot of the energy that I feed off of when I feel like the hours get long and it’s tiring or emotionally draining, it’s those young girls that I think about,” Sowers said. “I’ve had so many good ones. I had a girl who had my same last name that wrote to me. It was pretty cool, and she loves sports and she’s so excited to see a woman with her same last name coaching.”
Asked Monday night whether she wants to be a head coach in the NFL, she responded “absolutely,” adding that she will continue to do what she can to the best of her ability and that when more opportunities arise, she plans to take advantage.
“She has that ability and the leadership to do that,” Mullens said. “I know she has the tenacity and the mindset to achieve those things, so I can’t say that I’m surprised. She’s obviously worked so hard to get here and really created a lot of opportunities for herself. She has a vision, and it’s incredible to watch that grow.”
For now, Sowers is happy to live in the moment.
On Monday night, she recalled having to do an elementary school project in which she had to give a speech about her hero. She remembered other girls naming people such as author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her choice? Deion Sanders.
Those were the types of things that drove her to dreaming of one day attending the Super Bowl. She hadn’t even considered that she might one day coach in it.
“I am willing and happy to be a trailblazer because I know that other women, other young girls, are watching this and maybe their path seems a little clearer now,” Sowers said.