Over the weekend, Vanderbilt University senior Sarah Fuller made NCAA history, becoming the first woman to ever play in a Power 5 college football game. A goalkeeper last season for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, Fuller kicked off to begin the second half of the game against the University of Missouri.
Fuller is only the third woman to appear in an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) game, joining fellow placekickers April Goss of Kent State University and Katie Hnida of the University of New Mexico.
“I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to,” Fuller told reporters after the game.
Before Saturday’s game, Fuller had never played football in her life. The soccer player received the opportunity to play because the entirety of Vanderbilt’s kicking unit could not practice or play due to COVID-19 exposure.
Fuller played a massive role in Vanderbilt clinching its first SEC women’s soccer title since 1994 over the University of Arkansas. The Texas native was planning on heading home for the holiday when her coach called her with the opportunity to kick for the football team last weekend. “I’ll be there within the hour,” she recalled saying to Ken Masuhr, the team’s associate head coach.
Vanderbilt generated little offense during the game, so Fuller didn’t get the chance to attempt an extra point or field goal. However, to begin the second half, she executed a squib kick — a tactic used in football to limit the ability of the opposing team to return the ball — exactly as the coaches drew up. For her trailblazing performance, Fuller was named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Special Teams Player of the Week.
This didn’t stop critics on social media from arguing that she was incapable of doing the job correctly and shouldn’t be celebrated for kicking the ball a shorter distance than a traditional kickoff. They argued she was incapable of doing the job correctly. In response to the criticism, Fuller posted a video of an impressive goal kick from one of her soccer games, in which she kicked the ball nearly the entire length of the field and recorded an assist in the process. She captioned the post, “I’m just going to leave this here.”
Fuller was cognizant of her impact on aspiring female athletes across the country. On the back of Fuller’s helmet during the game was a sticker reading, “Play like a Girl” — a nonprofit that encourages girls to play sports and get exposure to STEM opportunities.
“It’s just so exciting that I can represent the little girls out there who wanted to do this or thought about playing football or any sport, really,” she said at a press conference after the game.
At Saturday’s game, Vanderbilt was blown out by Missouri, 41-0, moving to 0-8 on the year. Although Fuller did not have the opportunity to score any points for the Commodores in her debut, she left a strong impression on the coaching staff. Derek Mason, the coach of the Commodores, was fired on Sunday, but said after the game that he would like Fuller to stick around on the team’s roster. Interim head coach Todd Fitch is prepared to play Fuller in this week’s matchup against the University of Georgia. However, two kickers, Ryley Guay and Pierson Cooke, are set to rejoin the roster, which could limit Fuller’s opportunities to play in games.
“We are trying to provide the best situation for our team as we can,” Fitch told the New York Times. “But Sarah is out there. She kicked today [at practice]. We want to make sure we have the best available [kicker] for our team.”
Fuller said she would appreciate the opportunity to stay with the team. “I would love to learn more, so if those guys come out of quarantine, I would love to learn from them and their experience,” she told the New York Times. “I’ve been having a lot of fun doing this. It’s a challenge for me, but it’s something I know I can do. I want to continue learning, and if those guys can help me, I’m all for it.”
Fuller is looking to make the most of her experience as a female athlete in the public eye. “I would love to continue telling my story because it’s been a long road for me,” Fuller told the Times. “It hasn’t been easy at times. I would love to go around and talk to people about what it’s like to be a college athlete.”