Maya Ana Callender doesn't come from a football family.
The New England Patriots scouting assistant wasn't an athlete herself growing up, and her household didn't root for any one NFL team in particular. But she was responsible for getting her younger brother from school in Manhattan all the way to flag football practice back near their home in the Bronx.
Consequently, that meant getting well acquainted with the sport, whether she liked it or not.
"When you're a teenager, that's the last thing you want to do," Callender said. "But since I was always there the entire practice, his coaches would have me help out. I had to set up their snacks. They had me film some practices. It was insane. I didn't really enjoy it, but my brother really did, and it became something we bonded over. I got really into sports through him."
What was initially an annoying chore ended up igniting a passion and building the foundation of her career trajectory.
Callender realized she wanted to work in football. At the time, she saw other women in front-facing roles as sideline reporters and journalists, so that's what she set out to do her freshman year at Utica University.
"I thought I was going to be a journalist," Callender admits. "I thought I was going to be the next Pam Oliver.
That was before she immersed herself in what goes into building and operating a team from behind the scenes.
Two weeks into undergrad, she was hired by the football program at her small Division III school to be an assistant. In that capacity, she answered phones in the office and helped out in any way she could.
But while the team was out at practice, with her stuck inside, she wanted to get in on the action. Callender went to Utica head coach Blaise Faggiano hoping to take on any additional responsibility. He immediately put more on her plate, whether it was filming practices, helping out with equipment, or attending recruiting events.
"I think Coach Faggiano allowing me to have a bigger role allowed me to see that I actually can do this," Callender said.
"I can actually be involved and find a place for myself in this football world."
Callender served as football manager for the Pioneers until her college graduation, and after those four years in the cold, she became a football operations graduate assistant at Bellhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.
That opportunity proved to be much more after the Blazers director of football operations went on maternity leave, allowing Callender to serve as interim director in her place for the 2016 season.
She leveraged those two experiences into six years with Princeton football – first as an operations intern, then assistant director of football operations, until her ultimate promotion to director.
"In May of 2019 the DFO job opened up at Princeton, and Coach (Bob) Surace, with no hesitation, said I was the next woman up. He promoted me to DFO when I was 24," Callender said of the role she held for three years.
"Working in football operations made me understand that there's no job too small, and everything you do helps the team succeed. I definitely give credit for all those jobs I've had that put me in this position."
Still, Callender was eager to keep building her resume.
While working for Princeton, she completed two internships with the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After sitting in on one of Philadelphia's scouting meetings, she was hooked.
At the time, she reported to Catherine Raîche, former vice president of football operations for the Eagles. Callender told Raîche of her realization that she wanted to be a scout, and the now-assistant general manager and vice president of football operations for the Cleveland Browns helped further immerse her in their department.
"What drew me to scouting was that with my background, I have a lot of team operations experience – operating a team behind the scenes," Callender said. I always loved it but I knew I wanted to do more, I just didn't yet know how. I looked into player engagement and business operations, but that internship with the Eagles really opened me up to scouting for the first time."
Callender took everything she learned in those internships back to Princeton with her.
She took on more scouting tasks, sat in position meetings, went to more recruiting events, and continued to learn the ropes.
In 2022, she returned to the Buccaneers after being selected as the team's Nuun-Wooten Scouting Fellow, a program implemented by the NFL in 2015 to expose interested and qualified candidates to a career in pro scouting.
The fellowship is highly competitive, and only open to applicants who have played in the NFL, played college football, or are currently working in college football recruiting or personnel.
With all this experience, it didn't matter that she was a woman, nor that she didn't play herself. Callender's resume spoke for herself, and the people around her picked up on this work ethic.
"Along the way, I've always had people I worked with who really vouched for me and didn't treat me differently because I was a woman," Callender said.
"If you work hard and understand there's no job too small, doors open up. I do think I felt like I had to be prepared more, but that's only because I didn't play a sport. I wasn't an athlete. I didn't really grow up in a football family. There were a lot of things going against me, so I didn't mind putting in the extra work or doing the extra job to get to the point I needed to be at."
Right now, that place is in New England, getting ready for her first free agency and draft, where the Patriots are poised with cap space and this year's third-overall selection.
After contacting Camren Williams, Patriots director of college scouting, she was hired as the franchise's first full-time female scouting assistant.
"A lot of people I've worked with have told me not to compare myself to other people," Callender said.
"My mom has always said, you have to run your own race. So you just remind yourself of that, and if you do more, more doors and opportunities open up to you, and then you find yourself in some crazy job that you might not have even dreamed of."
The path Callender has been on is certainly unique to her, but those early mornings catching the subway for school and helping her brother get to practice primed her for what she's doing now.
Her fulfillment centers around the players. If they do well, Callender sees that as a direct reflection of the job she's doing. She's part of something bigger than herself, and is happy to be a small piece of the puzzle behind every win.
But just like she's seen her entire career to this point, no job is too little. That mentality keeps pushing her higher.
"Overall my end goal is definitely to be a president of football operations for an NFL team one day," Callender said.
"That would be my dream job. It still has scouting in it, it has operations, player engagement – a little bit of everything in it to help a team stay afloat. That's my dream job and I know being a scouting assistant right now will help me keep pushing to be a scout one day. And then I'll take on more responsibility and continue working in the background to eventually get in that position."