Sarah Fuller becomes 1st woman to play in Power 5 football game

MEREDITH DELISO
·4-min read

No woman has ever played in a Power 5 conference game. That all changed on Saturday, when Sarah Fuller took to the field as Vanderbilt plays Missouri.

Fuller kicked off for Vanderbilt to start the second half of the game, in Missouri.

The history-making move came on the heels of a Southeastern Conference championship-winning soccer season for the Vanderbilt senior, who sported her soccer jersey number -- 32 -- for Saturday's game. Vandy beat Arkansas, 3-1, in the SEC title game on Nov. 22. Fuller, the team's starting goalkeeper, made three saves.

Just a day later she was hitting the football field to practice kicks.

PHOTO: Vanderbilt's Sarah Fuller kicks off to start the second half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 28, 2020.  (L.g. Patterson/AP)
PHOTO: Vanderbilt's Sarah Fuller kicks off to start the second half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 28, 2020. (L.g. Patterson/AP)
PHOTO:  Vanderbilt Commodores place kicker Sarah Fuller warms up before a game against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo., Nov. 28, 2020. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)
PHOTO: Vanderbilt Commodores place kicker Sarah Fuller warms up before a game against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo., Nov. 28, 2020. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)

Fuller told reporters after the game that she was "really calm" during her kickoff. "I was really excited to step out on the field and do my thing," she said, adding that her soccer championship game was "more stressful."

The athlete also had a message for her young fans.

"I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to, you really can," she said. "And if you have that mentality all the way through, you can do big things."

For the game, Fuller wore "Play Like a Girl" on the back of her helmet, a nod to a nonprofit that encourages girls to become leaders in STEM by keeping them engaged in sports.

The athlete drew support from both Vanderbilt and Missouri spectators at Saturday's game, with one self-proclaimed Mizzou fan sporting a sign cheering for Fuller.

The Commodores ultimately lost the game, 41-0, and are now 0-8 for the season. The team's lack of offense -- just 183 total yards -- didn't allow for Fuller to attempt a PAT or field goal.

PHOTO:  A Missouri Tigers fan holds up a sign in support of Vanderbilt Commodores place kicker Sarah Fuller during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 28, 2020. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)
PHOTO: A Missouri Tigers fan holds up a sign in support of Vanderbilt Commodores place kicker Sarah Fuller during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 28, 2020. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

The goalkeeper was recruited as a kicker after several of the football team's specialists had to quarantine this week due to COVID-19 testing, according to ESPN.

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Fuller told Vanderbilt University the opportunity to help the team out would be "an honor."

"I think it's amazing and incredible," Fuller said in an article on the athletic program's website. "But I'm also trying to separate that because I know this is a job I need to do, and I want to help the team out and I want to do the best that I can. Placing that historical aspect aside just helps me focus in on what I need to do. I don't want to let them down in any way."

The Power 5 conferences are the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.

Vanderbilt's head soccer coach, Darren Ambrose, said Fuller's "the right person for the job."

"So excited for you and for college football," the coach said in a social media post.

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Congratulations also poured in from the SEC, Tennessee Titans, Jen Welter, the first female coach in the NFL, tennis great Billie Jean King and Vanderbilt alums including Adena Friedman, the president and CEO of Nasdaq, who called Fuller a "tremendous athlete and role model."

Fuller joins an elite company of female athletes who have competed in the Football Bowl Subdivision also as kickers: Katie Hnida for New Mexico in the early 2000s, and April Goss for Kent State in the mid-2010s. Hnida did dress for a game when she played at Colorado -- a Power 5 school -- but never played. She later transferred to play for the Lobos, where she became the first woman to score in an FBS game, converting two extra points in her career.

Ashley Martin is believed to be the first female athlete to play and score in an NCAA Division I football game in 2001, for Jacksonville State, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Sarah Fuller becomes 1st woman to play in Power 5 football game originally appeared on abcnews.go.com