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Tanya Walter, the first full-time CFL coach willing to get to work with the BC Lions

As the CFL’s first full-time coach, Tanya Walter knows she is paving the way for future generations.

Right now, however, she is focused on preparing the BC Lions defense for the upcoming season.

“My biggest thing is to be the best coach I can be all season long,” the defensive assistant said. “I’m sure there will also be opportunities to have an impact on [other women]. But the reality is that my focus this season will be to do my job.”

Hired in February, Walter spent months preparing for her new role before finally hitting the field at training camp in Kamloops last week.

There have already been plenty of opportunities to learn from her new colleagues, she said, including former Montreal Alouettes defensive end John Bowman, who joins British Columbia as coach of the freshman defensive line this season.

“It was good to finally be on the pitch and interact with the players and interact with our coaches and do the football part,” Walter said. “Obviously all the office stuff is part of the job and being a coach at this level, but it took a long time to really get out on the pitch.”

The former linebacker is used to being called a coach.

Walter, who played for the Edmonton Storm of the Canadian Women’s Soccer League West, previously coached at St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton, with the Edmonton Huskies of the CHL junior football and for the West Edmonton Raiders women’s football team.

She looked comfortable working out on Monday, her long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, orange and black trainers echoing the club’s colors on her track jacket. As the team played, she studied the action from the sideline, taking notes.

BC Lions defensive assistant Tanya Walter, who played for the Edmonton Storm of the Canadian Women’s Football League West, previously coached at St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton, with the Edmonton Huskies of the Canadian Junior Football League and for the West Edmonton Raiders women’s soccer team. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

His attention to detail is one of the qualities that Rick Campbell appreciated during the hiring process.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking for a woman, I was just looking for the best person and I think she fits all the bills,” said the BC head coach and co-general manager. “She loves the game, which is very important in training because it takes a lot of long hours. She has the right demeanor, the right work ethic, all those things and she fits in really well.

“And I think she’s going to be a person who, as her career progresses, won’t talk about herself as a woman, which is a big compliment. I think she’s just going to be a good football coach. And so far so good.”

Veteran Lions defensive back TJ Lee has had a lot of coaching during his football career. Walter is the first who is a woman.

His presence shows that progress is being made in the game, he said.

“She’s doing a great job helping out, making sure we get this guy’s attention and making sure the guys are moving around and running around,” Lee said. “So it’s good to have her in the team. It’s good to get to know her, to add some diversity to the sport.”

The defensive group inquired with their new coach about some of the languages ​​they use. The players don’t want to be silent, Lee explained, but recognize that they need to make sure everyone is comfortable.

“Our words mean certain different things to her, so, you know, be aware of that,” he said.

What took Walter some getting used to was the attention his new position received. It’s not often that a CFL defensive assistant makes headlines across the country.

“I’m well aware that I’m kind of under a microscope, whether I want to be or not,” she said. “But, you know, the positive side of it is that it means there will be more women and girls and women who will see that things like this are an option.”

The CFL is also working to make more space for women in football.

Each of the league’s nine teams currently has at least one woman working in its football operations or business administration departments as part of a four-week development opportunity. Some of the program participants are in the field as coaches, while others work in strength and conditioning, equipment management, or in offices.

But when the regular season begins, Walter will once again be the CFL’s only female coach on the sidelines full-time — and that’s a challenge she’s up to.

“I recognize that’s a big thing and it’s a big deal,” she said. “I’m well aware of the impact this has, but I’m really looking forward to getting the job done.”

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