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“He said, ‘I hear you have a girl coach. What is D.C. turning into?’ ” said Mr. Headen, who came out of retirement specifically to assist Ms. Randolph. “I said, ‘She has a lot of football knowledge. She also has a good assistant coach.’ He said, ‘Who’s that?’ I said, ‘Me.’

Natalie is an athlete herself. She’s competitive. She’s in a sport with a whole lot of men, but she ain’t going to let nobody buffalo her. We have our arguments on [the coaching staff], too. But she wants to prove that a woman can do it. That’s why we have her back.”

At a makeshift press conference announcing Ms. Randolph’s hiring, former District mayor Adrian Fenty presented her with a certificate declaring it “Natalie Randolph Day.” The news was featured on CNN. Hollywood producers wanted the rights to her life story. Parade magazine put her on its cover. An ESPN camera crew was on hand for her first game, along with 3,500 spectators and two dozen reporters from various media outlets.

When the Colts lost five consecutive contests to open last season, however, outside interest waned. Ms. Randolph was relieved. Uncomfortable with the spotlight, she was too busy teaching five classes and managing everything from her team’s game-planning to its fundraising to worry about interview and speaking engagement requests.

Besides, the Colts were decidedly a work-in-progress: new coaching staff, new playbook and new, stricter athletic and academic demands, including mandatory study hall. Most of the players were inexperienced — when Ms. Randolph was hired, nine players left the team or transferred to other schools, including a probable starting quarterback who departed just days before the start of the season.

“It was hard,” said Daniel West, a Morehouse College freshman who played for Coolidge last season. “Real hard. But I always say we started out 0-5 for a reason. The people who came out to be on TV for a female coach but not to play football, we rooted them out. The people who stayed believed.”

That faith was rewarded by Ms. Randolph’s first victory, a 48-12 victory over Anacostia High School that ended with the coach receiving a Gatorade bath from her players. From there, the Colts rallied to finish the regular season 4-6 before losing in the city playoffs to two-time defending champion H.D. Woodson.

The current season began inauspiciously, when an earthquake centered in Mineral, Va. and an unrelated transportation mix-up forced Coolidge to cancel its first two games. During a September loss to Calvert Hall High School in Towson, Md., delayed DCIAA paperwork processing left the Colts without their defensive coordinator, Shedrick Young.

A notoriously hard hitter with the Divas despite her diminutive 5-foot-5-inch frame, Ms. Randolph responded by calling defensive plays herself — a job she has retained all season, as Mr. Young’s paperwork remains in bureaucratic limbo.

“She’s aggressive,” said Mr. Young, who still watches Coolidge games from the stands. “I remember one game where she ran the same blitz, ‘thunder,’ like five times in a row. I told her, ‘You have to relax once in a while.’ But she’s doing good. It might be hard for me to get my job back.”

Behind a high-scoring offense led by speedy senior receivers Dayon Pratt and Fellonte Misher and a quick, opportunistic defense, Coolidge won five straight games during the regular season and defeated H.D. Woodson in the city playoffs to reach the DCIAA title game.

Though students and faculty regularly congratulate Ms. Randolph at school, she largely downplays her success, brushing off talk of being a female pioneer. “I guess it’s great to win,” she said. “I feel like I owe it to the kids a lot more than paying attention to what other people are thinking [about me]. I want to make sure that they come out of here with the best experience they can have in high school, something that can benefit them in the future and in college.”

In 2009, controversial former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee placed Coolidge under the control of Friends of Bedford, a New York City-based educational consulting firm. The firm tapped Ms. Randolph — a popular, no-nonsense science teacher who earned the trust and admiration of her students — to coach football largely in an effort to improve the team’s lagging classroom performance.

While Ms. Rhee and Friends of Bedford have since departed, the emphasis on schoolwork remains. Before football practice, Ms. Randolph holds 60-minute study halls for her players, four times a week. Team grade-point average has improved from 2.75 last season to 3.0 this season.

Last summer, Ms. Randolph spent much of her free time shuttling players to college campuses up and down the East Coast, the better to meet coaches and recruiters. Seniors Pratt and Misher respectively have committed to play college football next season at East Carolina and Old Dominion.

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