Gaining Ground: Mya Urba ’24 becomes Hanover’s first female football coach
Game tied with 1:19 left. Opponent has the ball inside Hanover territory. Fourth-and-one. Donning an easily spotted electric pink vest, with ponytail perched above her head, Mya Urba ’24 signals the Panthers’ formation from the sidelines, then anxiously implores her defensive unit to make a game-saving stop.
Though just 19 years old, Mya Urba ’24 has pursued her passion to coach football for the past five years. Through her journey, she has shaken off stereotypes while stockpiling knowledge, acquiring more responsibility and earning the respect of athletes, coaches and opponents.
“From an outsider’s perspective, I’m a 5-foot, curly-haired blondie who wears football stuff,” stated Urba. “I’ve been asked multiple times, I’ll be at [a local store] and I’m wearing the [Hanover] football sweatshirt and they’re like, ‘Oh, who’s your boyfriend on the team?’ I am like, no, I coach.”
This year, Urba became the first female on-the-field coach in Hanover College’s 135-year football history. Working side-by-side with Defensive Coordinator Aarik Gault, she coached linebackers and, during games, signaled defensive alignments prior to each of the opposition’s plays.
Urba, who also plays defense for Hanover’s lacrosse team, served as an assistant coach while a student at Westfield (Ind.) High School. Her involvement with the Shamrocks’ football program, which began on a whim prior to her freshman year, transformed an initial curiosity into a passion.
During her college search process, Urba longed for a role with her future school’s football program. Options such as equipment manager and office assistant were occasionally presented, but she really wanted to continue coaching. All she needed was an opportunity.
“I had to fill out a player’s recruiting form,” said Urba. “There was no easy way for me to do it. They would ask me for my height, weight and position film. I’d put my name and then scroll to the little notes at the bottom and just say, ‘Hey, I’m looking to coach. Is there a position for me?’”
Hanover checked many boxes on Urba’s wish list, which also includes academic interests in environmental biology and art + design. While visiting campus, she met with members of the Panthers’ football staff. Head Coach Matt Theobald ’96 immediately witnessed her sincerity and appetite for the game. An offer to coach was quickly extended.
“They were like, ‘What do you see yourself doing?’,” said Urba. “‘We want to help you do what you want to do. If you want to be a coach, if you want a higher role and be able to have more responsibility than you had in high school, we want to be able to make that happen.’ They never held back once and that was very different and made me feel at home. They were ready to just believe in me from day one.”
“She just kind of fit right in with us,” said Theobald, who has guided the Panthers since 2016. “Sometimes we get people from the outside that want to be a part of this but aren’t all in. I would say Mya is 100 percent all-in with Hanover football.”
Since earning the opportunity, she has been driven to acquire more intricate football knowledge and merit additional responsibilities. A critical task, given the nature of the sport and age group, has been to earn respect from the athletes.
“A lot of the guys have already played six years or more,” said Urba. “There’s not a female presence unless it’s the moms bringing snacks or whatever. So, it was definitely a learning experience for a lot of the guys to have to look up to somebody like a female in a higher role.”
“One of the biggest things about Mya is her dedication to the sport,” said linebacker Ross Eckert ’21. “[After] our first game at Defiance, we were on the bus ride home. I was talking to her and realized there is a lacrosse game today. I asked her ‘Mya, don’t you play lacrosse?’ She was like, ‘Football comes first.’”
“It was a neat relationship kind of being built with her and the rest of the team,” said Theobald. “She’s our voice from the coaching staff to the players. There is some pressure on her. It is not the most glorious job in the world, because at times, especially on defense, there is a lot of stress on you to make sure you get it right. She’s done a great job of just being professional and she takes it super seriously.”
Under Theobald, the Panthers have won three consecutive Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships and earned two berths in the NCAA Division III tournament. However, well beyond wins and losses, Hanover’s football “family” – totaling more than 130 athletes, coaches and auxiliary staff – encourages unity, accountability and respect.
“I never thought in my life I would have a female coach,” said Eckert. “It kind of taught us that it doesn’t matter who you are. As long as you do your job and you do it to the best of your ability, you are going to fit in. Maybe the first day Mya was here it was kind of weird seeing a girl on the field. But, after that, it was like she is just a coach. She’s part of this team just as much as the next person.”
“There aren’t many jobs where you’re not going to interact with a female in a certain position of power,” said Theobald. “I think it’s important for our guys to be able to work with women and see them not just as a [figurehead], but see them as a person, and a person that they’re going to have to take direction from, work with and work alongside. Hopefully, that will translate later in life.”
The impact of the COVID pandemic piled Hanover’s abbreviated spring season on top of the regularly scheduled lacrosse season. At a minimum, Urba logged four and one-half hours per day at Alumni Stadium with lacrosse and football practices often running consecutively. Double duty, however, did not discourage her from tackling the two, very distinct responsibilities.
“Am I exhausted when I get back? Yes,” said Urba. “Do I get to start my homework at 8 p.m. and have to get up that next morning for classes again? Yep. And do it all over again. I absolutely adore it. It is so cool and so rewarding to be able to do both.”
Urba was one of almost 400 students who obtained Dean’s List honors for the Winter/Spring 2021 term.
“It was a tough spring for her,” said Theobald. “She shows up on time. She knows the practice plan, knows the game plan and gets everything we need done.”
Since 2015, when the Arizona Cardinals hired the NFL’s first female summer intern, women have increasingly secured administrative and coaching roles inside the football universe. Katie Sowers famously served as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers during their run to the 2020 Super Bowl. There were six women coaches on the sidelines during the NFL’s 2021 playoffs.
“That’s what is unique to football and what I really love about it,” said Theobald. “We are all out there trying to achieve one goal. And that is what football breaks down, a lot of barriers.”
“I’ve always felt that openness to other individuals who maybe don’t fit the stereotypical mold,” said Eckert. “It speaks a lot to what we’re willing to do and, if you’re the best at what you do, it doesn’t matter what you look like.”
Once a casual interest, football has become a passion for Urba. While her destination may still be shrouded in uncertainty, her future is wide open.
“I have a daughter. Coach [Justin] Robinson has a daughter. Coach Gault is a new father. He has a daughter,” said Theobald. “We obviously always want to protect [Mya], but we have daughters and we want to make sure that they have every opportunity going forward to follow their dreams and their passion. I think that is really what we are trying to help Mya with. She is passionate about [coaching football]. She’s the first [at Hanover] and we want to help her achieve her goals and her dreams.”