Just Call her Coach: Garza steps into larger Strength & Conditioning/Powerlifting Coaching role at Aldine High
HOUSTON – A whistle sounds, cutting through the August air over the sound of the band warming up and music blaring from the stadium speakers. Members of the Aldine football team run back and forth in their pregame routine across the turf on the first Friday night of the season.
Standing there, instructing each step and move, will be Aislinn Garza.
“I’ve got goosebumps,” Garza said of imagining her first Friday Night Lights in Texas on a football coaching staff next fall.
Garza was recently hired as the Aldine Strength & Conditioning and Powerlifting coach to serve on Cirilo Ojeda’s staff, becoming the second-known female staff member of a football coaching staff in Houston.
“When I was 14, I didn’t see a lot of women in these positions,” Garza said. “I didn’t see women working in professional sports. At 14, my realm of opportunities was shortsighted. I would have never dreamed of working at a 6A high school on a football staff ever in my life.
“I wake up in the morning and I work at Aldine High School. I am on a football staff at Aldine High School. A State and National Championship winning school. This is insane and amazing.”
As part of her on-field and in-game duties, Ojeda will handle the warmup and dynamic stretching during pregame and halftime. Then, during the game, she will work with athletic trainers Corie Cerda and Kelly Smallbeck.
“I see her impact showing in our explosiveness, physical ability, core strength and toughness,” Ojeda said. “Those are the intangibles that aren’t going to happen without a plan, and that’s what she brings to the football side of things. She will be at practices for warmup, cooldown and in season lifts.”
Garza was brought to Aldine by Ojeda from his previous job at Sharpstown High School, where Garza served as the Strength & Conditioning coordinator but was also the Dance Director. She didn’t have an on-field role. Her time was split between athletics and fine arts.
Now, starting this week, Garza is a key part of the Aldine football coaching staff, serves as the Strength & Conditioning coach for all sports, and will start a boys and girls powerlifting team next year.
“I have always loved working with football,” Garza said. “I’m excited to take a more active role on the coaching staff. I’m really lucky that Coach Ojeda is open-minded and supportive of hiring the best fit and the best people for positions.”
Ojeda added: “Her favorite saying is ‘How you do something is how you do everything.’ Her attention to detail is second to none, and the impact that is going to be made has no ceiling.”
Road to Coaching
Garza’s path to coaching is an interesting one.
At Katy Taylor High School and LSU, Garza did not play team sports, instead being a part of their dance teams. So, how did she end up as a strength and conditioning coach?
“I fell in love with the science of programming,” Garza said. “Understanding better ways of moving and learning better ways to develop things required on the field of play. That led me to getting my Masters at LSU in Kinesiology.”
Coming out of college, Garza got into Crossfit and then parlayed that into Olympic weightlifting starting in 2011.
In training for Olympic weightlifting, Garza said they use the bench, squat and deadlift to train – which are all used in powerlifting. Over the years, Garza started doing private training but then came on staff at Sharpstown High School as its strength and conditioning coordinator.
“My dance side helps me to being creative with some of the things we do in the weight room,” Garza said.
While serving as the strength and conditioning coordinator at Sharpstown, Ojeda was preparing Garza for the next step of her career.
“He did such a good job of integrating me at the program at Sharpstown that there weren’t nerves,” she said about accepting the larger role at Aldine. “Every year I fall more and more in love with strength and conditioning and with football, too. This year, I started playing football. It has been really fun to play and understand the game better. In five years, I would love to continue to be a part of this Aldine football staff. Breaking records, snapping losing streaks and see some playoff berths.”
Inspiring the Next Generation
As Garza walks the halls of Aldine High during her first week on the job, she thinks back to what her 14-year-old self would think. Face-to-face in a room, what would she tell a 14-year-old Aislinn Garza?
“You are not going to believe what you got yourself into,” Garza said with a laugh.
What she has gotten herself into is becoming a role model and example to 14-year-old girls today as a coach. That feeling hit her last summer at Sharpstown High School. A student was coming to SAC camp twice a day. In the morning, she would work out and then in the afternoon be her “demo girl.”
At the end of the summer, she asked “How do I get to be like you when I grow up?”
“I immediately said, ‘how do you get to be a dance teacher?’,” Garza said. “She said no. ‘How do I get to coach weightlifting?’ In that moment, I was like wow. These girls, when they see something happening, they believe they can do it too.”
That hit Garza, who has been inspired in her career by people like Missy Mitchell-McBeth, the Strength & Conditioning coach at Byron Nelson High School. Garza’s impact has been bigger than she could even imagine.
“I’ve always looked up to women who work in athletics and work in sports specifically with football, but in every sport,” she said. “Ones who are leaders and who are paving the way. I never considered myself one of those women until last year.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling, it’s an exciting feeling and a big feeling of responsibility.”
Ojeda has seen Garza grow over the years into the coach she has become today. And she is a role model to young women everywhere, because “she conducts herself in the model that what she’s doing is the norm rather than the exception.”
“It should be an expectation that what you get is earned by being qualified and experienced to do any job at a high level without being labeled,” Ojeda said. “Young girls that see what she’s doing can see it as inspiration that they can do anything they want to do with hard work and dedication to the path they choose. If that’s being a football coach, then they have a network that’s forming from people like Coach Garza.”
With Garza’s hiring, she joins Fort Bend Bush’s Kim Smallwood, who has coached running backs and receivers for the Broncos, along with being the head women’s basketball coach, as a female staff member on a football staff in Houston. The UIL had its first-ever female referee in a state football championship game in 2020. Several school districts in Houston are led by female athletic directors – Galena Park (Vivian Dancy), Katy ISD (Debbie Decker), Fort Bend ISD (Dena Scott), Lamar CISD (Nikki Nelson) and, most recently, Splendora ISD (Deanna Eubanks).The UIL is headed up by Dr. Susan Elza.
"It's a big deal and is awesome that women are getting these opportunities," Elza told VYPE in a 2021 story about women in coaching. "And for women who aspire to coach men's sports, whether it be soccer, basketball, baseball or football, I say go for it. Even if you didn't play the sport, head coaches are going to coach you up so they can coach their kids.
"We are in a time where decision-makers are more open to not looking at gender, but at the qualifications."
Garza is qualified and is ready to continue blazing the path that many others have taken steps on before her. Now, she will do it at Aldine High School.