LATROBE, Pa. – Stephanie Balochko has a passion for football. It's something that has been in her blood since she was a young girl who was raised as a Steelers fan.
But never in her wildest dreams did she think that passion would one day turn into her working with the Steelers coaching staff at training camp and on game day.
Balochko is the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Passion football team, a member of the Women's Football Alliance. Last year during training camp she assisted with the Steelers Women's Training Camp, but she wanted to take it a step further.
She sent her coaching resume to members of the Steelers' staff, and was surprised when she heard back from the team with an invitation to intern for a week at training camp and at the team's preseason opener vs. the Lions, a chance for her to get a different look at the same game.
"It was amazing to get the call," said Balochko. "Not only do I love football and everything about it, learning about it and advancing it, but I am a huge Steelers fan. Not only was it a great call to get because I want to coach, but to be with the team you love is unbelievable. I still think I am on cloud nine."
Balochko said she has the utmost respect for the Steelers for giving her the opportunity to learn from their staff, in particular working with assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell.
"Everybody in the organization was great," said Balochko. "I have nothing but positive to take away from it. I don't think the players cared that I was a woman, they cared that I was a coach. The coaches were the same way. We discussed football and it was like I was part of the team. I wasn't intimidated, but I was really nervous. I didn't know what would be expected, what I would be allowed to do or not do.
"Coach Mitchell was amazing. I went to practice, went to meetings, and from there the nerves were gone and we took off running. We went to meetings together, discussed how players were looking, we broke down film together. He cared about my input and making sure I was getting the most out of the experience."
Mitchell said he was impressed with her knowledge of the game, and willingness to take that to another level.
"This young lady is really serious about football," said Mitchell. "She was very attentive at every meeting. She wasn't shy about asking questions. I was very impressed with her. I told her if you see something that you think can help the guys, go tell them and they'll be receptive, but only if you know what you are talking about. She did. She is a student of the game. She has done as well as any intern we have had."
Balochko, who is a full-time firefighter and paramedic in Bedford, Ohio, said working with the guys was a bit different than the women she is used to coaching, but the game is the same.
"Once the ball got rolling, it was fine," said Balochko. "I felt comfortable talking to the players. Anything I said they were great with and ran with it. They accepted it.
"It was extremely special. To be able to have this chance was a great feeling."