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Tremendous Bowl 2021: Harrisburg’s Lori Locust on cusp of historical past with Tampa Bay Buccaneers; right here’s how she acquired th – PennLive

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just defeated the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago, and jubilation surrounded Lori Locust. The Bucs hadn’t been to the NFL’s title game in 18 years, and now they were going to be playing in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium, their home field.

But the second-year assistant defensive line coach didn’t let herself bask in the glory of the moment for too long. Locust called her two sons, Alex and Bryce, like she always does after games, but then her mind turned to more practical matters.

She needed to know what time the plane was going to arrive back in Tampa, Fla., and she needed to carve out the time to grade the team’s film from its 31-26 win and get into the office on time for meetings. The preparation for the Kansas City Chiefs needed to start immediately.

Locust, 56, could be on the verge of history. If the Bucs beat the Chiefs on Sunday night, the Harrisburg native will become the first woman, along with Bucs assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar, to coach a Super Bowl-winning team. But despite the extra hoopla and attention surrounding Tampa Bay and her role on the team’s coaching staff, Locust has kept a narrow view of her task at hand.

“I kind of live by like a 10-minute rule,” Locust said in a Zoom interview earlier this week. “If I’m totally upset about something, I give myself 10 minutes to get over it. If I’m so excited, I get 10 minutes to celebrate, and then I got to move on because there’s a lot of work to do and there’s a lot of prep stuff that has to go on. Hopefully after the season I’ll get a chance to kind of sit back and reflect, but right now, we’re singularly focused, and I’m part of that process.”

Joe Headen chuckled when he heard how Locust was approaching the weeks before the biggest game of her professional coaching career. To him, it sounded like the Locust he coached alongside at Susquehanna Township from 2010-18 and the Locust he would sit with in the stands at their sons’ youth football practices.

Earlier this week, Headen, the head coach at Susquehanna Twp., caught part of an interview with Locust on NFL Network.

“OK, big time,” Headen texted her.

“Please, big time, I got to go watch film,” Locust responded.

“She’s not caught up in the moment,” Headen told PennLive earlier this week. “She’s still doing her job, and she understands that she’s got a task to do, and she still sticks to her guns, like in the bed at 9 o’clock, up at 6:30. To me, it’s the same old Lori, and I think to her, it’s the same old Lori in her process, and she’s never been one to take it all in, like, it’s all about me.”

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the history that Locust could make with the world watching Sunday night, even if she’s pushing off any big-picture reflection until after the season. As she’s risen through the ranks from Headen’s staff at Susquehanna Twp. to stints with various semi-pro and arena league teams, plus a stint as an intern with the Baltimore Ravens, Locust has long been in the role of trailblazer.

That continued two years ago when Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians hired Locust to be the Bucs assistant defensive line coach, which made her the first female position coach in the NFL.

“The moment Coach Lo got here she has been one of us from the first meeting, from my first introduction to her, to our first meeting together, to our first meeting with the players, she has stepped in from Day 1,” Bucs defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said. “We don’t see her as a woman. We only see her as Coach Lo, and she steps in and performs her role admirably.”

Locust and Javadifar won’t be the first women to coach in the Super Bowl after San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers broke that barrier a year ago. But they have the chance to be the first women to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

“MJ and I are here to help Tampa Bay win,” Locust said. “It wouldn’t matter if we’re second in or 273rd in. We acknowledge the fact there hasn’t been many before us, but it’s not anything that we kind of keep in the forefront of what we do on a daily basis.”

Locust, Javadifar, Sowers and Washington assistant running backs coach Jennifer King, who was hired to her position last month after spending a year as an intern, have built relationships with each other over the past few years, and they’re working to create a community for others who want to follow in their footsteps.

Locust credited the work being done by NFL senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion Sam Rapoport with helping to create a pipeline for more women to enter the operational side of the league, and Locust believes that without the coronavirus pandemic, there would have been many more opportunities for women in the NFL in 2020.

But Locust stressed the amount of hard work it has taken her and her peers to get to this point. Male coaches, Locust said, have a built-in network from their playing careers or earlier in their coaching careers, and they don’t often go outside of the outlines of that coaching tree.

“There’s a blessing and a curse to media coverage in regards to women coaches because what it looks like sometimes is that we’ve just sprung up out of nowhere where as there’s hundreds of women that are at various levels of football, whether it’s high school, college, semi-pro, and they’ve been out there kind of doing it on their own,” Locust said. “And they’ve been earning those positions on their own without any help from anyone else.”

Headen and Locust dedicated plenty of time and energy to networking during their time on Susquehanna Twp.’s staff. Headen recalled one time where he was at a convention in Charlotte, N.C., that Locust wasn’t going to be able to make it to. But on the Saturday night of the event, he got a text. Locust had driven herself anyway, and she drove home the next day.

Another time, Headen was supposed to drive the two of them to a college to meet with coaches. He had to drop out of the trip, so Locust went by herself and slept in her car.

“That’s the part of the story that people don’t see,” Headen said. “So when I think about Lori and the sacrifices she made to get to where she’s gotten to, and by no means do I think she’s done because she’s one of those people, she wants to lift others as she’s climbing, and I know she will continue to do that with the opportunities to make sure that other young girls get the opportunities that she had.”

Locust’s business-as-usual approach to the week has permeated her players. Bucs defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh is 34 years old, and he’s playing in his second Super Bowl in three years. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro. He knows what it takes to get to this point, and he’s seen how other coaches and teammates have handled it in the past.

But with Locust, there has been no difference. It’s February, and she’s still coaching the Bucs defensive linemen like it’s July.

“Coach Locust has been great to work with, now in my second year with her along my side,” Suh said. “Just really, she’s very smart, very detail-oriented. … She makes note each and every single practice on how we’re working on our steps and being consistent and rather than being kind of lackadaisical because we’re in the position that we’re in right now. It’s simply just the basics like we would be going through a normal practice during camp of hard work and focus on the way we need to get things done and the way we want to execute.”

That’s the coach that Headen remembers assisting him at Susquehanna Twp. for all of those years. Locust’s attention to detail, stemming from when she was simply a coach for the freshman team, stood out to Headen. At halftime of games, she could point out exactly how the team needed to adjust against its opponent.

She forged those skills under the Friday night lights in central Pennsylvania, and now she’ll apply them on Super Bowl Sunday before an international audience.

But as Locust has shown her mentors, her peers and her players, the progression of her career hasn’t changed who she is. During her 25-minute Zoom interview session, Locust reflected on being the “runner” for Susquehanna Twp.’s football team when she was in high school. Every Friday night, she would stand next to the coach and defensive coordinator and help relay and track plays.

And all these years later Sunday, Locust has the chance to make history.

“It’s something that’s the pinnacle of where we’re at, and it seems so big from the outside looking in, but I don’t think that I’ve allowed myself to really embrace the whole impact of what this really means, and I don’t know that I’ll do it until after the game,” Locust said. “It’s just something that I’ve always done to sort of compartmentalize bigger things in my life, this probably being the biggest of my career, but it’s just not anything I want to let get sort of out ahead of me and really kind of take over where we’re at.

“We have things we have to do to be ready, and we have a lot of meetings and review that still has to be done, so I don’t look at things personally as much as I look at them for the team. I’ve always kind of said it’s not about, it’s about we, so I don’t get very introspective often, but hopefully I will take some time next week to do that.”

Daniel Gallen covers the Philadelphia Eagles for PennLive. He can be reached at dgallen@pennlive.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Follow PennLive’s Philadelphia Eagles coverage on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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