The college player was more accustomed to her role as a soccer goalkeeper at Vanderbilt – until the men’s football team came calling
Sarah Fuller must have felt that her fame had peaked when her performance in goal helped the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team to a Southeastern Conference title earlier this year. Little did she know she was about to find fame in the other football.
When Covid-19 tore through the men’s football team, they were left without a recognised kicker. The Commodores quickly did a talent search around the college’s athletic department and became familiar with Fuller, who could kick a ball 60 yards by the time she was in high school and, at 6ft 1in, was unlikely to be intimated by the very large human beings who play football.
Fuller was soon travelling as the team’s only kicker to their game against Missouri. The 21-year-old would not be the first woman to play in the FBS, the highest level of college football – Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State had preceded her – however, she was the first to play in the Power 5, which are acknowledged as the elite conferences.
Unfortunately for Fuller, the Commodores are so abject this season (they finished their campaign with an, um, consistent record of 0-8) that they did not manage to generate an opportunity for a field goal or extra-point during her debut. She did, however, perform well enough in her kickoff duties that she was chosen to play in the team’s next game, against Georgia. She also drew praise from athletes such as LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe and her fellow goalkeeper, Hope Solo.
Fuller wasn’t content to shut up and kick though. She had always been a vocal presence as a captain of the Vanderbilt soccer team, and didn’t see why that should change just because she was now on a (nearly) all-male team.
“I just went in there and I said exactly what I was thinking. I was like, ‘We need to be cheering each other on. This is how you win games. This is how you get better is by calling each other out for stuff, and I’m going to call you guys out. We need to be supporting one another. We need to be lifting each other up. That’s what a team’s about,’” Fuller said after her debut. “I think this team has struggled, and that’s been part of it.”
The team continued to struggle in their next – and last – game of the season, against Tennessee. Fuller did fine too, making both of her extra-point attempts and, in doing so, becoming the first woman to score in a Power 5 football game.
“These past few weeks have been incredible,” Fuller told the Guardian. “The energy on the team has been amazing. A few of my teammates’ little sisters play flag football, and they’ve asked me to send videos to them, saying they’re inspired.”
Fuller’s football career is almost certainly over – she will study at the University of North Texas for her master’s degree next year, where she will continue to play soccer. She will bring with her her nickname from the Commodores’ football team though: “Champ”.