When Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play for a Power Five college football team, soccer fans may have wondered why they had never heard of her. And if Carli Lloyd can hope to kick in the NFL, can Fuller aim for the U.S. women’s national team?
Well, the truth is, the overlap of top-tier women’s soccer players and female football kickers is extremely small, and there’s a reason why Fuller’s surge to the spotlight was a bit surprising for football fans and soccer fans alike.
Sarah Fuller’s history with the USWNT
Fuller’s last time in the U.S. national team fold was back in December 2014, when she was invited to a rare goalkeeper camp in Chula Vista, California, with the Under-18 national team. She was one of 16 goalkeepers invited who had been born from between 1996 and 2000, according to U.S. Soccer.
She stayed on the USWNT radar after that, remaining on the list of prospects for the U-17s in 2015, and the U-19s in 2018, per U.S. Soccer records. But she was never called into any national team camps and the 21-year-old is no longer in the player pool.
Where Fuller has made her mark in soccer has been this year with Vanderbilt. As a senior, she earned her first start for the Commodores in October and started nine of 12 games in the fall season, leading them to their first SEC title since 1994.
Prior to that, Fuller had played just two games for Vandy as a substitute, one as a junior and one as a sophomore. But notably her college soccer career has been derailed repeatedly by injuries – a broken foot as a freshman and a slipped disc in her back as a sophomore.
While Fuller has clearly enjoyed a breakout season with Vanderbilt’s soccer team, her burgeoning football career and her soccer career probably don’t have all that much to do with one another.
Have any USWNT players succeeded as a football kicker?
Yes, being able to kick a ball with precision and power is helpful for being good at soccer, but it’s certainly not the only thing – and it’s probably not even the most important thing, regardless of playing as goalkeeper or out on the field. That may explain why so few women’s soccer stars have actually tried to make the jump to football as a kicker.
Of the less than 20 women who have kicked for their college football teams, none of them have played for the U.S. women’s national team, and most of them aren’t known for soccer careers at all. Fuller, having won a soccer title with Vanderbilt, may be more of an exception than a usual case.
There have been USWNT players who have talked about being a kicker in football – but it hasn’t happened yet.
Last year, Carli Lloyd went to Philadelphia Eagles training where she nailed a 55-yard field goal attempt, prompting offers from NFL teams for a tryout. At the time, Lloyd was busy preparing for the Olympics, which were supposed to happen this summer and have been pushed back, further delaying any NFL dreams.
It seems unlikely that the 38-year-old Lloyd could seriously make a go at an NFL career after the 2021 Olympics, but she has managed to conjure up the unfathomable as an athlete before. She has insisted she believes she could do it, telling Yahoo Sports as recently as April that she’s “not ruling it out.”
The other potential USWNT-football crossover that never came to fruition emerged back in the USWNT’s early days.
In 1989, Michelle Akers had caught the eye of a coach who had worked with several Dallas Cowboys kickers, and he saw a potential NFL career for her. She was regularly kicking from 40-some yards but needed to improve her technique to kick further, said the coach, Ben Agajanian.
“She lacks the distance it takes right now because she’s not impacting the ball just right,” he said at the time. “I’m sure that’s because of soccer. Maybe in six months or a year, she may be able to try out for an NFL team. Not now, though, because she’s not ready.'”
Well, that never happened.
Instead, Akers stuck with soccer and with the USWNT won the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1991, which had such low expectations that it wasn’t even called the World Cup yet. A few years later, she and her teammates would become some of the biggest stars in America when they won the World Cup again in 1999 in front of a record viewing audience.
That highlights another reason that top-level women’s soccer stars don’t really need to chase the game of football: Playing for the USWNT is a dream job, and club soccer is increasingly paying women more too. The rewards in women’s soccer were few in 1989, but it’s a very different world now, where USWNT players have fought to earn increasingly comfortable livings and can become bona fide celebrities.
The timing is the ‘hard part’ of kicking
So what’s the closest actual example of an elite women’s soccer player kicking for a men’s football team? It may be Morgan Andrews, a midfielder for OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Andrews, who later won the 2016 NCAA women’s soccer championship with USC, was a placekicker for her high school football team. She was a good enough kicker, in fact, that she was named first-team all-state in 2011.
She has been a frequent presence on youth national teams as well, representing the U.S. at two regional CONCACAF championships. She was selected third overall in the 2017 NWSL college draft by the Boston Breakers.
Bella Bixby, a goalkeeper for the Portland Thorns, also kicked for her high school football team, specializing in field goals and extra points, and she made all-league her senior year. The biggest difference between taking goal kicks as a goalkeeper and kicking a football, she says, is being able to connect with the ball the moment it’s placed.
“I’d say the actual kicking of the ball is no problem, especially for soccer players,” Bixby said last year. “I’m not surprised that Carli Lloyd nailed a 55-yard field goal. That’s not the hard part. It’s the timing.”
For Fuller, timing has been everything in her rise to the spotlight as a football kicker – and not just in kicking the ball.
In the midst of the best season of her college soccer career, COVID-19 protocols meant the Commodores were in need of a kicker, a role she was happy to fill. It was an unexpected bit of right place at the right time, and now it looks like Fuller may get to continue.
How long she can call herself both a college soccer player and a college football player remains to be seen, but Fuller certainly has reserved a spot on a very exclusive list of successful crossovers from women’s soccer to football.
Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.
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