SHREVEPORT, La (KMSS/KTAL) – For the last six years, Joan Catanese has been living out her dream coaching on the Huntington football staff. “I’ve been falling in love more and more every day with the game,” says Catanese. During that time, Catanese has done a little bit of everything for the Raiders: coaching offensive line, tight-ends, and wide-receivers, among other responsibilities. It’s a “do anything” attitude that was evident from the first meeting of her and Raiders head coach Stephen Dennis.

“The first time we met, she was the head coach at Caddo Middle Magnet and come by to inspect some equipment,” said Coach Dennis. “So she dropped by and inspected the equipment, and while she was there, she cleaned up our locker room. I knew right then and there she was going to be my first hire.”

Catanese has been roaming the Raiders’ sidelines ever since. Recently she’s been named the head freshman team coach. The dream? To one day coach in the NFL. Growing up, it wasn’t something she thought would be possible.

“I just didn’t see people who looked like me on the sidelines,” said Catanese. The NFL’s Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching fellowship aims to change just that. Since it’s inception in 1987, the fellowship’s main goal is to provide opportunities to minority coaches. Alumni of the group include Steeler’s head coach Mike Tomlin and former NFL head coaches Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson.

In 2016, the program included its second female participant, Katie Sowers, who was hired by the Atlanta Falcons for training camp. Now, Catanese will get the same opportunity as Sowers, joining Arthur Smith’s staff in Atlanta for Falcons’ training camp later this summer.

Joan Catanese will intern with the Atlanta Falcons during training camp later this summer.

“I’m excited to be able to hone my skills as a coach and to be able to see how they do things on a higher level,” said Catanese. “I want to take what they do and bring it back home to our Huntington football family and help our guys succeed and grow and become even better than they are now.”

Five years ago, there was only one woman assistant coach in the league. Now, 1.5% of the league’s assistant coaches are women. Coach Catanese is hoping that she can increase that number, and in the process inspire her students to continue to follow their dreams, however ambitious those dreams are.

Catanese was named the head freshman coaching entering the fall.

“I want my students to see that they can do anything they wanna do, they don’t have to give up on their dreams, and they always have to work hard,” said Catanese.

Before she ended practice with her freshman team, she shared a similar message. “Hard work does not guarantee success, but it does guarantee opportunities, and when those opportunities arise, you need to be ready. That hard work gets you ready,” she told her team. Catanese is ready to make the most of her hard-earned opportunity. And the Huntington community will be supporting her every step of the way.

“It makes me tremendously proud of her,” said Coach Dennis. “To see her get this opportunity, means we’re hiring the right people.”