Vanderbilt Kicker Sarah Fuller Becomes First Woman to Play in Power 5 Game

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Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Just last Sunday, Sarah Fuller was suiting up with the rest of the Vanderbilt women's soccer team for the SEC championship, which the Commodores claimed after beating Arkansas, 3-1.

Six days later, Fuller made history as the first woman to suit up for a SEC football game and to appear in any Power 5 (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) game.

The 21-year-old kicked off for Vanderbilt, who eventually lost 41–0, to open the second half against Missouri, becoming the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game. 

"Honestly, I was just really calm," Fuller said after the game. "The SEC championship was more stressful, if I'm going to be honest." 

Fuller squibbed the ball right where Vanderbilt wanted, as fans could see the Commodores coverage funneling short right. The ball was ultimately un-returnable for Missouri.

Asked after Saturday's game whether Fuller will kick in the Commodores' next game—a week later, at Georgia—head coach Derek Mason said, "That’s really of her choosing. If she wants to kicks and she’s available we’d love to have her."

Two other women have also played in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) contests, according to Vanderbilt Athletics. First came Katie Hnida, who kicked two extra points for the University of New Mexico against Texas State in 2003. Then April Goss kicked an extra point for Kent State during their 2015 game against Delaware State.

Hnida was the first woman to suit up for a Power 5 conference program while at Colorado, then in the Big 12, in 1999.

Other notable women football players include:

  • 1997: Liz Heaston kicked two extra points for then-NAIA program Willamette, becoming the first woman to score in a college football game.
  • 2001: Ashley Martin kicked three extra points for FCS Jacksonville State against Cumberland, becoming the first woman to score at the D-I level.
  • 2003: Tonya Butler became the first woman to kick a field goal in an NCAA game for D-II West Alabama.
  • 2007-10: Brittany Ryan is the all-time NCAA female scoring leader with 100 points for Lebanon Valley, a D-III program.

“I think it’s amazing and incredible. 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,” Fuller said in a story published on VUCommodores.com. “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 anyway.

“It’s an honor they called on me to be able to do this and help them out.”

Written on the back of Fuller's helmet in gold bold writing are four words: PLAY LIKE A GIRL. 

Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Sarah Fuller, a senior goalkeeper from Wylie, Texas, will be the first woman ever to suit up for a SEC football game and the first woman since 1999 to dress for Power 5 conference football game when Vanderbilt (0–7) plays at Missouri (3–3) on Saturday.

Play Like A Girl is a nonprofit that "champions girls by uniquely leveraging sport to prepare and equip young women with the leadership skills and competitive spirit essential for success both on the playing field and in the workplace."

Because of COVID-19 protocols landing specialists in quarantine, Fuller found herself practicing with the football team as a kicker on Tuesday, The Vanderbilt Hustler's Simon Gibbs reported.

Vanderbilt is just 3 for 7 on field goals this season, though the struggles could be partially attributed to COVID-19 related absences throughout its special teams unit.

While she did not take a snap on Tuesday, Fuller was in full pads and uniform, walking through "with coaches and at least one specialist on the sidelines."

Now, four days later, she's continuing to make history. 

"I just want to tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to—you really can," Fuller said.

Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Sarah Fuller, 21, stands inside Vanderbilt Stadium.