In 2018, Joe Griffin was at work in his store, Heads Up Helmets, when Tabitha McBride walked in.
The Ahwatukee resident, who has coached football for more than 20 years and was an assistant under legendary Mountain Pointe Coach Norris Vaughan, soon learned McBride owned the Phoenix Phantomz — a Women’s Football Alliance franchise. When McBride found out about Griffin’s football experience, she asked him to come on as a coach.
“She was like, ‘they just need help,’” Griffin recalled. “‘The ladies are committed and we just need coaches to come and actually believe in them and coach them.’’”
After visiting a few practices, Griffin, who was involved with youth football programs and a Mountain Pointe gig, declined initially but after the end of the season, took her offer.
It was a decision that has helped put the Phantomz, now called the AZ Outkast, on the doorstep of a championship.
On July 23, the Outkast will look to defeat the Derby City Dynamite for the WFA Division III title at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
Created in 2009, the WFA is the largest women’s tackle football league globally, with 66 teams across three divisions and broadcasting partnerships including ESPN3 and Root Sports. Additionally, the league has sent coaches and scouts to the National Football League such as Katie Sowers of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jennifer King of the Washington Football Team, the first African American female coach in the NFL.
The WFA also provides an opportunity for women to play a game they are passionate about at a high level.
With a 7-1 record and 10 WFA All Americans, Griffin’s squad has succeeded on the field.
And off-field, the tenets of hard work, camaraderie and a family-like atmosphere have built the foundation for the Outkast’s chance to make WFA history.
“There’s not one person on the team that isn’t at a high caliber,” running back Jazmyne Reining said. “They just really pushed me to be better. I wanted to not only be better for myself, but I wanted to be better for the team. If I can do what I need to execute and the team does the same thing, we can win.”
When Griffin took over as head coach ahead of the 2019 season, he said it would take two seasons of competing together “to get you where you want.”
He encouraged the Outkast to trust in a process of team development and the gradual implementation of a new system.
His prediction came true.
After two years – a 3-3 campaign and a canceled one due to the pandemic – the Outkast are on the door to a championship.
Reining has over 1,800 rushing yards and finished the regular season with 21 touchdowns, the most in the WFA.
Fellow 1st Team All American JB Goodlow has 350 receiving yards and 325 return yards. On the other side of the ball, cornerback Torii Davis tops the WFA with nine pass deflections.
The Outkast are one of the top scoring teams in the WFA, averaging more than 47 points per game.
“They love football and are just as good as some of the guys out there as far as their commitment level and skill level,” Griffin said.
When Reining, who ran track at Fort Lewis College and Colorado Mesa University, moved to Arizona from Colorado, she missed the competitive nature of sports. Her uncle then recommended she try out for the then Phantomz.
“I was like ‘Well, I don’t want to be in the Lingerie League,’” Reining said. “He’s like ‘No, no, no, you should look one up because there’s actually women’s football.’ So I was like ‘Why not?’”
At first, Reining was placed as wide receiver, but after coaches saw her speed, she was moved to running back and started learning the plays and tools for the position.
Now, she is a WFA All American.
The Outkast attacked this last offseason, from training and eating right to attending workouts. Griffin said players used the 8 a.m. Sunday training at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler to not only improve, but also create workout pods by position group.
“Some of the ladies are just like ‘I’ve never been this close to a championship’ and some of them have been playing 13, 14 years,” Griffin said. “For them, it’s like ‘Hey, this is what I’ve worked all these years to achieve.’”
That long-time goal of a title can finally be reached on an upcoming Friday in northeast Ohio. The Outkast defeated the Iowa Phoenix 29-8 — the game was called at halftime due to inclement weather — and will face the Derby City Dynamite from Louisville, Ky.
Reining recalled the celebration in the locker room as “absolutely amazing.”
Throughout her time with the AZ Outkast, Reining has built a special “sisterhood” with her teammates, one so strong that during a surprise birthday party for a player, Reining said more members of the team attended than the player’s family.
It is also a group that knows they have not reached their final objective yet. A franchise-defining moment is still at stake.
“We don’t ever want to be that team that comes out cocky,” Reining said. “We’re just gonna stay low, stay focused and do what we do best.”