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Changing the game: How NMSU is carving a path off the field for women

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- We're used to a football team running routes on the field, but NMSU is carving a whole new path off of it.

There are 131 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, otherwise known as FBS schools, in the country, and just four have females as equipment directors, including NMSU.

Paulina Mihelich became the equipment manager at NMSU this season.

"There was ties from Southern Illinois from when I was there that really recommended her highly and she came into a hornet's nest," NMSU football coach Jerry Kill said. "She's done a great job."

It's a job Paulina never envisioned growing up but now couldn't imagine her life without.

It all started back in 2012 when Paulina was a freshman in college studying healthcare and biology administration at Southern Illinois. That's when her cousin got her a job in the equipment room working with football, and she fell in love.

"I wanted to work in a hospital because I was like, yay, healthcare, and now I'm like, what's a Saturday without sports? Sitting in the stands is not an option," Paulina said.

The NMSU equipment manager is instead on the sidelines and firmly a member of the NMSU football team.

"Just being a female in a male predominant sport and a male-predominant role is kind of eye-opening," Paulina said. "I think it's a different level of respect that they have for you."

But Paulina's role is just the beginning of the path new head coach Jerry Kill is carving because he has multiple women in important roles.

Rachel Phillips is NMSUs Football Operations Manager, and she is just 1 of 8 in the country in that position. While Sam Graff is 1 of 11 female Associate Athletic Trainers.

NMSU is the only FBS program with women in all three of those roles, and around the team, they're affectionately known as the trifecta.

"We're kind of setting a trend here and empowering young women and giving them really important and meaningful jobs in a male-dominated field," NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said.

"I don't care who they are, female, male, whatever, I want the best people," Kill said.

Paulina hopes what she and her colleagues are doing now means soon there will be so many more women running football programs around the country.

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Rachel Phillips

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