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Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller made history on Saturday afternoon by becoming the first woman to appear in a Power Five college football game.
Fuller normally serves as a goalkeeper on Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, which she led to the Southeastern Conference title last weekend. She was added to the Commodores’ roster after the team’s other kickers were forced into COVID-19 quarantine, rendering them unavailable for Saturday’s matinee at Missouri. The Power Five is comprised of the biggest conferences in college sports: the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.
Fuller, a senior, made coach Derek Mason’s roster following a successful tryout earlier this week. “She’s got a strong leg,” Mason said. “We'll figure out what that looks like on Saturday.”
The moment came at the beginning of the second half when Fuller, wearing a “Play Like A Girl” sticker on the back of her helmet, kicked off. She didn’t have an opportunity in the first half, as the Tigers dominated the visitors and ran out to a 21-0 lead.
It was the only action she saw in her team’s eventual 41-0 loss, one that dropped Vanderbilt to 0-8 on the seasons. Nonetheless, Fuller became just the third woman to play at the top level of college football, after fellow kickers Katie Hnida and April Gross.
“Honestly, I was just really calm — the SEC [Championship] was more stressful,” Fuller, in a post-game interview with the SEC Network, said afterward. “I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to, like you really can. And if you have that mentality all the way through, you can do big things.”
It’s not yet clear if Fuller will remain with Mason’s team when Georgia visits on Dec. 5. Oren Milstein, Mason’s first choice kicker in 2019, opted out of the 2020 campaign because of coronavirus concerns. Its other specialists had to isolate after coming into contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19 and might not be cleared in time for next weekend’s contest.
Hnida broke the glass ceiling when she took the field for New Mexico in 2003. Gross followed in 2015 with Kent State. Jacksonville State’s Ashley Martin was the first woman to play NCAA football at any level in 2001. None have suited up in the NFL yet, although United States women’s national team great Carli Lloyd impressed during a workout with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, shortly after she helped the USWNT win its second consecutive World Cup. Like Fuller, Gross and Martin played soccer before switching to the gridiron. Vanderbilt folded its men’s soccer program in 2006.
Before Saturday’s game, Hnida and Lloyd both voiced their support for the 6-foot-2 Fuller, a native of Wylie, Texas, who is majoring in Medicine, Health and Society at the Nashville school.
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