Six days after becoming an SEC women’s soccer champion, Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in a Power 5 football game. Two weeks later, Fuller became the first female to score when she made two extra point attempts. The Vanderbilt goalie was added to the roster just days before the game after the Commodores found themselves without a kicker as a result of COVID-19 protocols. Fuller’s squib kick to start the second half was a major accomplishment for her, however, her Saturday on-field appearance has many Mississippi women athletes and coaches excited about what the future holds.
Southern Miss soccer player Tay Collum watched the kickoff with some friends. She and many of her Lady Eagle teammates are very excited to see a fellow soccer player finding success on the football field.
“I think it’s cool that she got that opportunity because you don’t see that ever,” said Collum. “I know of a couple of people who have done it in high school, but to see it on a collegiate level is really cool.”
Collum, who was a standout at Northwest Rankin High School and played her freshman season at UAB, would relish the opportunity to kick for the Golden Eagles.
“If they were to possibly need a kicker or if something were to happen, I would definitely love to have that opportunity.”
Jones Community College soccer player Kendyl Terrell has firsthand knowledge of the magnitude of what transpired last Saturday. She was the first female to score in a MHSAA State Championship game. The then-sophomore kicker for Hattiesburg High School remembers being awed that girls felt inspired by her merely doing what she enjoyed. She recognizes that Fuller’s appearance on such a big stage is more significant than simply being “the first.”
“I feel like she has no idea what she has accomplished for women in general. I can’t tell you how many little girls came up to me and were like ‘I wanna play football.’ or ‘When I’m able to I wanna be just like you.’ For her to have the courage to do that, gives us the courage to (know) that the impossible is possible.”
Terrell became interested in playing football during her freshman year but her father rejected the idea. She persisted and convinced her parents to give her their blessing. Terrell started every game her sophomore year including the 2017 state championships where she made history. She continued to play throughout her junior and senior years and says that it was an amazing experience.
“Just being able to have that opportunity and share it with people that care about the sport as much as I ended up caring about the sport made it amazing,” said Terrell.
The two college athletes believe that Fuller’s kick placed a spotlight on their sport.
“It was a big moment for women’s soccer. A ton of my teammates and soccer people, in general, watched that game because we all knew what was happening and I think people seeing a female soccer player kicking for a football team gives a lot of respect (to soccer),” said Collum.
Although, women’s soccer players have a definite reason to feel pride that feeling has ebbed into other women’s locker rooms. Female athletes in basketball, volleyball, and other sports are excited about what they see as renewed possibilities.
Rose Warren, a freshman guard at Southern Miss, was a standout player at Puckett High School and a dual-sport athlete named to the MHSAA All-State team in volleyball and basketball. Warren was the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Girls Basketball Player of the Year last season. For her, Fuller’s willingness to make such a huge step to help her school’s football team illuminates the tenacity and dedication of female athletes.
“I think that women’s sports are advancing anyway, but this brought a lot of attention to (women) and women sports,” said Warren. “It’s very inspiring for me and younger girls who are looking up to her because it shows that whatever you set your mind to you can do.”
The sentiment is shared by Jackson Academy’s Parker Bracken. The Clarion Ledger 2020 Volleyball Player of the Year and Mississippi 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year is arguably the most accomplished volleyball player in Mississippi history. She is the state’s all-time leader in kills and has won five MAIS state championships. Yet, with all of her personal accomplishments, she found herself watching Saturday’s game and feeling motivated to do more.
“She is such a role model for us younger women,” she said. “It makes me feel like I can do anything and strive for what most women thought was impossible. It inspires me and it should inspire other women to pursue anything that they want to do.”
Fuller’s debut also marks an advancement for women who are beginning to shine in traditionally male-dominated spaces. The National Football League has now had at least 5 females in some form of assistant coaching roles and ESPN reported earlier this year that about one-third of NBA teams employed a woman coach. Leagues such as the Women’s Football Alliance and the Women’s National Football Conference offer opportunities for women to play professional tackle football.
Jamie Lock, Magee High School’s running backs coach, is one of a handful of women pacing Mississippi’s football sidelines. Lock found her love of football as a little girl in Pelahatchie. She played peewee football until she reached ninth grade and began playing softball. She went on to play softball at Mississippi Valley State University and later joined the Army. But Lock still had football in her blood. She joined the Music City Mizfits in Nashville, a women’s tackle football team, and became a running backs coach at the city’s Ezell-Harding Christian School. She is now in her first year with the Trojans who won the MHSAA 3A state championship game last Friday. Lock says that many girls will see Fuller and know that their dream is not so far-fetched.
“It was a great thing for women, especially in football. It was exposure and inspiration for all the girls out there who are either playing football right now or want to play football, but don’t really know if it is socially acceptable,” she said. “When I was playing, I didn’t know any (other females) beside me playing football. It’s good to have that visual.”
Lock, who will play next season with the local WNFC’s Jackson’s Lady Panther football team, hopes that seeing a woman play football on a national stage will increase interest in adding girls’ football at the secondary level.
“(This is) a good gateway for having girls tackle teams at the high school or college level,” she said. “Right now, there is the WNFC, but I feel like if we start at the high school level first that it will give a really strong foundation for that professional league to keep running like the NFL.”
Head Jackson State University women’s basketball coach, Tomekia Reed, also soaked in Fuller’s moment with pride. She says it revitalized dreams that she had quietly set aside.
“I’ve personally always wanted to become a head coach for men’s basketball at the Division I level. I began having these thoughts over 10 years ago and I was quickly reminded there was no chance of that happening. Now, in 2020, the doors are open more than ever to accomplish goals once laughed at.”
All of the women agree that Fuller’s milestone is one more in an amazing time for women.
“2020 is turning out to be a very momentous year for women across the board from our first female Vice President, to female coaches being chosen to coach NBA teams, to now having a Power 5 female football kicker,” said Reed. “This is outstanding for young girls to believe more in themselves and know they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.”