On Saturday, Nov. 28, Vanderbilt senior Sarah Fuller kicked off the second half of a game against Mizzou, becoming the first woman to play in a regular season football game in any of the Power 5 conferences. The Power 5 consists of the SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big-12 and Big Ten conferences, the most revered in D1 college football.
The starting goalie on the women’s soccer team, Fuller aided Vanderbilt in clinching their first SEC soccer title since 1994 against Arkansas just six days prior to joining the football roster. Because of COVID-19 restrictions limiting the ability for the kicking squad to practice, Fuller was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
Fuller went for a low kick that went down at the 35 yard line, following a play by head coach Derek Mason.
“That was designed for her because that’s what she’s used to striking,” Mason said. “I thought she punched it just like she needed it to.”
Mason remains adamant that the addition of Fuller to the roster was an act of necessity and not merely to send a message.
“I’m not about making statements,” Mason said. “She could have easily said no, but instead, she prepared all week and did what she was supposed to do. She was as prepared as anyone for this game.”
Fuller donned a sticker saying “Play Like a Girl” on the back of her helmet, advocating for the non-profit organization of the same name which aims to inspire girls through sports and integrate them into careers in STEM.
Although the 0-8 team suffered a heavy 41-0 loss and Fuller did not receive an opportunity to attempt a field goal, the coaching staff has shown enthusiasm about inserting her into more game situations.
It was announced on Dec. 1 that Fuller would kick off in Vanderbilt’s next game against the 6-2 Georgia Bulldogs.
Despite a slew of hateful comments all too familiar for female athletes given a spotlight, Fuller remains unfazed and confident as ever.
“This is something I believe I’ve earned, and I was at the right place at the right time, said Fuller in a press conference. “So yeah, I’ll take on the hate.”
It would be neglectful not to acknowledge the other female football players throughout history who have paved the way for Fuller’s historic debut.
In 1997, Liz Heaston was the first woman to play in any college football game as a back-up placekicker for Willamette University. Other notable players include Katie Hnida, Ashley Martin and Becca Longo.
Fuller hopes that young girls watching can find inspiration in her story.
“I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to,” Fuller told ESPN in an interview.