Kelly Kleine always figured she'd end up in football in some way, shape or form.

"Growing up in Sheboygan," she said, "you love the Packers, and you love football."

She had a fairly lofty goal a decade ago during her days as a public relations intern for the Gophers and Vikings.

"My absolute dream job was being a sideline reporter," she said. "But I'm not the most clear talker. So, I thought, 'Nah, I probably shouldn't do that.'"

Instead of becoming the next Michele Tafoya, Kelly Kleine sort of "fell into" the path of becoming the first Kelly Kleine, a 30-year-old NFL scouting pioneer with an unlimited work ethic and an unassuming personality.

"When we hired Kelly back in May, I called her and said, 'Kelly, this is going to be a big deal,'" said Broncos public relations director Patrick Smyth. "Kelly goes, 'Get out. Really?! No way.'"

Yes, way.

"Kelly was a priority hire for me," said George Paton, the former Vikings assistant general manager who became Denver's general manager. "She fixes things. She's a problem solver, a game-changer. She takes care of a lot of my blind spots."

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman didn't want to lose Kleine, who was his manager of player personnel/college. But the guy who gave Kleine her start also didn't want to stop her from a promotion to Denver's executive director of football operations/special adviser to the general manager. Kleine will help Paton on the pro side initially while also overseeing the video and equipment departments.

"I didn't hire her because she's a female," Paton said. "But I understand the significance. I have a 12-year-old daughter."

Kleine is uncomfortable with the attention, but also understands its importance.

"It's crazy because all I'm trying to do is help the Broncos win, but it's also cool that young girls can now see not just me but other women in football," she said. "When I got the job, I said I hoped that someone would pass me up soon."

Later that month, someone did. The Eagles promoted Catherine Raiche to vice president of football operations.

According to Forbes Magazine, there are 13 women now working in NFL scouting departments. At least seven of them received promotions in May. Meanwhile, there were a record eight female NFL coaches in 2020.

"As far as the Vikings, we've always had sort of a pioneering mind-set internally," said Anne Doepner, the team's director of inclusion and employee investment. "Every voice matters. Rick is really good about that."

Before taking her current position, Doepner spent 13 years as director of football administration. She was one of only two women in the NFL negotiating player contracts.

"And little-known fact, Kelly covered for one of my maternity leaves," Doepner said. "So she was able to dabble in some cap work back in 2013, when my second child, my son, was born."

Kleine graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2013. Her PR gig with the Vikings was reaching its end.

"I was down in the little PR area at Winter Park," Kleine said. "Steven Price, a scout who's now with the Giants, said, 'Hey, you want to come help out in scouting?' I was like, 'Hey, sure, why not?' I needed a job."

Kleine had one request, though.

"I'll do it if you can teach me," she said. "Teach me because I don't know what the heck I'm doing. I sat down with Rick, had a good conversation and they kind of just threw me in."

Enter Scott Studwell. Old-school linebacker from 1977-90. Franchise leader for tackles in a game, a season and a career. Spent another 28 years working for or running the Vikings' college scouting department. Looks like he eats nails for breakfast.

"The most incredible human being," Kleine said. "He took me under his wing and taught me everything. He's like a father to me."

"Ah," Studwell says, "I think she's giving me more credit than I deserve. We didn't mold her. We didn't create her. She's always been special. She was raised right, and she's got a great work ethic. She's one of those people you want to help."

Paton said Kleine and Studwell might look like an odd couple but are actually "kindred spirits."

"Kelly can talk to anyone," Paton said. "She could talk to a serial killer. She and Stud hit it off right away. Stud taught her how to evaluate, taught her how to scout, how to run a pro day. They both like cold beverages, so I think that helps. She's Wisconsin, he's Midwest [Indiana]. Those two people are special."

Studwell retired in the spring of 2019, giving up the endless hours of traveling and watching film to enjoy four grandchildren under the age of 10. He's also got an eye on the career of a certain 30-year-old in Denver.

"Kelly has a great perspective on what she's doing and why she's doing it," Studwell said. "She's not overwhelmed by all the attention. She's a pioneer, so to speak, at a very young age, but it's not going to change her. There's a very bright future for her in this league. It will be fun to sit back and see how far it takes her."