It was a moment that Amanda Ruller had likely envisioned dozens, if not hundreds of times as she’s travelled down the path of a young football coach.
The Regina, Sask. native has been all over Mosaic Stadium, working as the in-house host for games in 2017 and later all over the sidelines, interviewing Riders players for local TV in Regina (there’s a long, long list of football-related qualifications that we’ll delve into shortly).
On Wednesday, she made her way into the coaches meetings, led by Craig Dickenson.
Ruller’s long journey to the Riders is far from it being an endpoint, but it was a significant moment, as she was one of nine women selected by the CFL to take part in the Women In Football Program presented by KPMG. She’ll be working with Riders’ running backs coach Kelly Jeffrey for the rest of this month.
If you know anything about Ruller, she was ready for that moment.
“I sat down with the staff and it was comfortable,” she said, “because I’ve never felt so ready.”
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Ruller’s preparedness came from how she spent the last year. She’s the running backs coach at McMaster University, a role she took on last June, working for Marauders head coach Stefan Ptaszek and offensive coordinator Corey Grant.
“When I was working at McMaster University, they really prepared me to be at the next level because obviously working with Coach Ptaszek and Corey Grant, they’re high level coaches,” she said.
“When I came in here, I just understood everything and I understood I needed to be here and I feel really at ease. There’s no pressure because I know what it’s like to be a highly competitive athlete. I know what it’s like to be a highly competitive coach now from working at Mac and this is where I was born to be. So I feel really comfortable.”
Ruller’s resume is bursting with relevant experience in and around the game of football. She’s a certified exercise physiologist and has worked with CFL and university level athletes in that capacity. She of course played the game and was a member of Team Canada.
“I played, I coached, I’ve done almost every facet of football,” she said. “I’ve done media. I’ve done personnel recruiting. I’ve been on basically every side of the ball coaching running backs. I played DB. I played running back. I’ve been an exercise physiologist, a certified strength conditioning specialist. I can do positional work. I can do strength conditioning. I’ve done literally everything in football.”
As impressive as that journey is, it’s also one that could have been cut short if Ruller weren’t so determined. A shorter athlete, she was told she wouldn’t be able to succeed at some of the sports she played. She pushed through and became a track athlete and soccer player at the University of Regina.
When she wanted to play football, she traveled to a team tryout in the States. They said she wouldn’t be a fit on the team, but she continued to show up until they let her practice with them. She’s done bobsled with Team Canada and holds weightlifting records in Saskatchewan. She convinced the University of Regina Rams football team to hire her as their speed coach in 2018. She sent herself to the NFL Combine this year to network with coaches. When she sets goals for herself, she refuses to be shut down on them.
“I kept pushing it. Every single time I got a no, literally every time I said, ‘I will not accept your no,’” she recalled, laughing.
It’s reminiscent of that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza is fired but continues to show up to work, refusing to accept his boss’ decision.
“I pretty much am George Costanza,” Ruller laughed.
But in a good way.
“I think in a great way.”
Her early days in her stay with the Riders have been exciting for her. She’s enjoyed working with Kelly Jeffrey through rookie camp (“I’m kind of attached at the hip with him, I’m learning a lot,” she said) and is trying to absorb as much information as she can. Watching Craig Dickenson through these first days of camp with players new to the CFL has been very interesting.
“He knows how to bring a group into a meeting, inspire them, make them feel comfortable and excited about the season and then put them to work at the same time,” Ruller said.
“They want to work for him and that’s the type of coach I want to be. So I’m inspired by him to be the best coach I could be.”
She thinks back to when she was a kid at Riders games, asking her father if girls could play football. He told her she could do anything she wanted and while she’s obviously followed through on that, seeing more women in playing and coaching roles along the way would have helped. She’s hopeful that she can provide that for girls with an interest in the game.
“This is a good stepping stone for me as a coach in general,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what gender I am. I’m just excited that I get the opportunity and (for) the other people (in) this program.”
Her focus is in the moment right now with the Riders, but Ruller is also thinking bigger picture, plotting out what’s next for her and how she can get to her goal of being a full-time pro coach.
“I have some irons in the fire and that’s exciting,” she said.
You can bet that she won’t give up until she reaches her goals.