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Making their presence felt
Kearstin Schweitzer and Javé Brown spent part of 2023 training camp working with the Steelers personnel department through the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship
By Teresa Varley Sep 04, 2023

There is no doubt Bill Nunn would be smiling if he had seen Javé Brown and Kearstin Schweitzer walking the sidelines at Saint Vincent College the first two weeks of the Steelers 2023 training camp, keeping an eye on practice with the same eagle eye he once did in his scouting days and taking part in the daily meetings with the Steelers player personnel staff.

It would mean the world to him, because Nunn was all about bringing diversity to the NFL, one of the first scouts to dip into the immense and untapped talent pool at Historically Black Colleges and Universities back in the early 1970s.

Now, decades later, there is another talent pool that is making its way to the NFL and it's thanks to the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, named after Nunn, the legendary scout who served in multiple roles in the Steelers personnel department beginning in 1967 in a part-time role, and then in a full-time role from 1969-2014, and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Contributor as part of the Class of 2021, and John Wooten, a former NFL player and front-office executive who has cemented his name in promoting diversity as well.

The fellowship is open to former NFL players, former college football players and current college football employees working in recruiting and personnel.

And women are part of the pool that are being selected to participate.

"For me, the Steelers are always first when it comes to accepting and showing the world how everybody should act," said Brown. "It was a long time ago when people like Bill Nunn, myself and Kearstin, we weren't looked at like we can do the job just because of who we were. And Mr. (Dan) Rooney thought, that's silly. And so he hired Bill Nunn and to have this named after him and for me to be a person who followed up, it's amazing."

Brown, who has worked in various roles assisting the Steelers Marketing Department since 2016, is now the Director of Programming and Logistics for the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches, a scout with the East West Shrine Bowl and assistant coach at North Hills High School.

She has applied for the fellowship previously, but this year had the opportunity to meet members of the Steelers personnel department at the East-West Shrine Bowl and was invited to visit the team during OTAs. It was then she was encouraged to once again apply, and this time, she earned the spot.

"When I walked into the scouting room for the first time, not knowing that side of the business or the people over in that personnel group, it was just great," said Brown. "Everybody was so welcoming and so helpful. It's family here. And it's always nice to have one voice. No matter if I'm working with the marketing team or if I'm working with some of the athletes that were here before, the alumni that were here before or some of the athletes that are here now, everybody has one voice and everybody is embracing and always making you feel like family.

"I learned a lot and making sure to take that back with me when I go back to the East-West Shrine Bowl, when I go back on the field with North Hills High School."

Schweitzer, who is the director of football operations and an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, learned of the fellowship through social media and as she was looking to expand her career, the fellowship was something that was a dream position she worked to make a reality.

"When I got to camp, it was a whirlwind," said Schweitzer. "It was super exciting to be there. Everyone's so welcoming. You learn a lot. The guys in the scouting room know what they're talking about. They have a lot of experience. I came there with an open mind just to see what I can learn. And leaving there, I have so much more knowledge and am able to take the skills that I've learned there and use that in my programs and hopefully one day give back to the scouting world."

The first two weeks of training camp are the key time for the scouts before they hit the road for the preseason, so that is when Brown and Schweitzer spent their time at Saint Vincent College.

And the days were action packed.

Morning meetings. Afternoon practices. Evening meetings. And always time for extra film sessions and answering their questions whenever needed.

"When we went into our room or scouting room, we talked about the things that we need to do as far as the season goes," said Schweitzer. "We were a part of those conversations, which is really great. They didn't act like we're not a part of their team. Everything that they're talking about, everything that they're doing, everything that they're getting ready for, we're getting all that knowledge as well.

"We watched what's going on during practice on the field and then we'd go back and watch film just like everybody else."

Those meetings were often attended by Coach Mike Tomlin and like the scouts, he never held back information, everyone a part of the same team.

"I loved all the learning, but it was so shocking when Coach T came in to watch film with us," said Brown. "He was sitting there talking to the scouts about what he's looking for, how to break things down or how he's looking and breaking down this film. It's just so awesome how everybody is one voice around here. And I've known that. But again, being from the marketing side and then coming over to the personnel side, it's one voice. This whole organization is one voice and it's awesome."

In the same manner as the scouts did, and Coach Tomlin, both of them went into practice with a plan of what they were looking for, who they were going to focus on, what traits they wanted to see from the player to make sure they were performing on the field the same way they had seen in previous film sessions, whether it be college, NFL or any type of practice film.

"We discussed who we're going to watch, what position group, and we looked at their athletic ability," said Schweitzer. "Are they flexible? Can they change direction really well? Do they have good hands? All the different attributes that an athlete should have. What caliber are they at? Are they really good at it? Are they quick in out cuts? Do they take more steps than they should. We evaluated each position, each day. It was a different position each day."

When practice ended, evaluations were required with written reports from all.

"I'm always looking to see what's standing out, what is it that this will bring to the table if we bring in a different player, what we're looking for next year," said Brown. "We want to see what that standard is. We're looking to see if they can make plays. If they can't make that play, how do they react to that? We're looking for everything. We're looking for a skill, we're looking for emotion, we're looking for do you fit in."

Fitting in.

As women in the NFL, fitting in is something that would have been a question mark years ago.

But things have changed.

Women are now part of coaching staffs, player personnel departments, officiating and much more in the game.

"The way the league is turning right now, there are a lot of qualified females that are going to be doing various front office jobs," said Mark Sadowski, the Steelers director of player scouting who worked closely with both of them from the interview process on. "Whether it be a scouting job, player personnel coordinator position. I have seen several on the road last fall. I think the league will trend that direction.

"It's about finding the right candidates, the ones that are super passionate about football, have football in their background. Those are the candidates that we had with these two young ladies. It's extremely important to them and it showed in their presence, work ethic, willingness to learn and go above and beyond. I think the league is trending that way and there are a lot of excellent candidates out there who are going to make an impact in the league."

The role of females has grown by leaps and bounds and Brown and Schweitzer, well they are prime examples.

"I think it's about progress. It's about opportunity," said Schweitzer. "When I got into football, I didn't really think differently. I didn't think I was different than the rest. I knew I was a female in a male industry, but I didn't work any differently than what my male counterparts were. I don't think you realize it until someone else tells you because you're just here to do the work. That's the biggest thing about women in football. We're here to do the work. It doesn't matter who was around or who's next to me, I'm going to do the same work because I want to get to where everybody else is.

"We all have the same goal. You do best when we can flip programs and organizations that we work with because we love ball, and we want to be a part of it."

Brown's relationship with the Steelers through her marketing department duties started the relationship, but it was witnessing her football knowledge firsthand that opened eyes as to what she is capable of on the other side of the ball, regardless of gender.

"A job is a job regardless of any of those other factors," said Brown. "If you can do the job, then you should have the opportunity to be able to do the job. I feel like women are getting that opportunity to show that they can do the job, we're letting some people understand that. To say, hey I was wrong, you can do the job. You do belong here. It doesn't matter what you look like, as long as you can get the job done. That's what we should be looking for. These types of fellowships and internships that are available for everybody to get on the same page, just understand that if you can do the job, then we want you here. We want the best person for the job because that's what we're looking for."

Knowing that they are helping to break down some of the barriers in sports is something they don't think about regularly, as they just consider themselves scouts and coaches, not female scouts and coaches. But there is the understanding they are opening doors for others, giving those after them the opportunity to reach their goals because the standard is now set.

"Representation matters," said Brown. "Whenever you see somebody who looks like you, regardless of it's race or gender, background, then you feel hopeful. And that's the reason why I do it. I also want people who are coming up to feel that same hope.

"I work with kids because I work in a high school and I want them to think that there's other things that they can do out there, that they're not in a box. When you see women that are out here and they're doing things that they thought that they couldn't do, it just makes it all the better for them. And they can strive to be something that they thought that they couldn't."

What made them feel welcomed into the male dominated world was the Steelers personnel department. From General Manager Omar Khan on down, including Dan Rooney Jr., Sheldon White, Mark Sadowski, Dan Colbert and everyone else, they were open and welcoming, treating them the same as anyone in the scouting room.

"They welcomed us with open arms," said Schweitzer. "They were always asking if we needed to know anything, or what else can they do to help us. Asking if we wanted to watch more film. Do we want to go over more, learn different aspects of scouting, meet with them. We've had multiple meetings at night just going over different film and positions and looking at what they look for, and they're really descriptive. They didn't really hide anything. They're open books to us and they want us to know as much as we want to know."

Both Brown and Schweitzer are back in their regular full-time roles at their schools, but they have taken with them not just memories, but more importantly lessons that they can use now and moving forward in their professional endeavors.

"I brought back what I've learned in practice, the type of tempo they have," said Schweitzer. "To be an NFL program, you have to compete because you're competing against the best. Where we're at, we're a Division III program that is highly competitive. If we can get our standard up to practice like an NFL team, that can give us chances to win a conference championship. That's our goal this season.

"Just being able to evaluate players more, have more of that professional side, more of an idea of what it's like to be a scout and what scouts are looking for. Even though we're a Division III program, we do get draftable candidates, kids that can possibly make it, so bringing all that knowledge back to Platteville is going to be helpful for me. We do have a few guys on our roster that are going to be looked at this year and being able to be almost that pro liaison, having more of that knowledge, I'm hoping to help our guys be able to get into the league and help the league guys get to know our guys."

What they also took back with them is something they have always had, a love for the game of football that challenges them to take their own game to the next level.

"I love the competitiveness, but also the brotherhood," said Brown. "It's one of a kind here. Everybody is a family. And I understand that it's brotherhood and sisterhood at this point. It's the family, being on a team and being a part of something. Even if you think that you're not contributing, you absolutely are. When you think that people are not watching you or they don't appreciate, football, you can't do your job without the person next to you, period."

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