Being a football Graduate Assistant, or GA, is a demanding position that demands long hours and involves everything from helping the coaches at practice and breaking down film to monitoring players' study halls and handling equipment. And all this is done while juggling graduate-level coursework in school. In exchange for putting in up to 100 hours per week, GAs receive free tuition and, perhaps more importantly, an introduction to the world of college football coaching. Most graduate assistantships last two seasons, although the NCAA allows for three. Furthermore, the NCAA mandates that each team can only field two GA positions.
Play football in college, if possible, either as a scholarship or walk-on player. This will not only give you insight into the game and how it functions, but will also provide you with a network of players and coaches you can turn to later on. Smaller universities and colleges are more willing to accept GA's with no playing experience, but this is unlikely at a larger Division I school. Volunteer as a team manager or in some other capacity if you are unable to play.
Observe the coaches every day at practice, so you can begin to pick up on the nuances of coaching football. Take notes after practice on what concepts, techniques and tendencies you picked up that day. Speak with the coaches and let them know of your desire to serve as a GA and eventually go into coaching. Seek out a mentor on the coaching staff who is willing to talk with you about the profession. Hang around the football facilities and try to soak up as much information as possible.
Scour school athletics and NCAA sites for job openings, which are generally posted during the off-season. Also track job listings using sites like Indeed, a meta-search engine. Write to various schools' athletic department to inquire about a position in the program. Attend coaching conferences and clinics, networking with everyone you meet to gain contacts in the industry. If you played football, contact people from your former teams as well, as many of your teammates and coaches will have scattered to programs around the country.
Apply to and enroll in a graduate program after earning your graduate assistant position. As a full-time graduate student you will have to meet the same admission requirements as everyone else in your program. Schedule your classes so that they do not conflict with your GA responsibilities. This may require going to classes at less convenient times, including early in the morning, over lunch, or later in the evening. Continue reading about the game and watch football whenever you have an opportunity, taking note of the coaching strategy during various situations in the game.