Sarah Fuller on Playing Like a Girl

Sarah Fuller

Sarah Fuller (Vanderbilt Athletics)

The athlete talks about what led to her historic kickoff for the Vanderbilt football team — and more

It was an odd confluence of events that led to Sarah Fuller’s history-making kick two weekends ago. A global pandemic sidelined every member of Vanderbilt University’s kicking squad and Fuller — fresh off claiming an SEC Championship with the women’s soccer team — had yet to leave campus to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family in Wylie, Texas. 

She was in her dorm room preparing to head home when she got the call from her soccer coach. The Commodores were in desperate need of a kicker. “Could she be on the field in an hour?” he asked her. 

“I was like, ‘I’ll be there in 30 minutes,’” Fuller told KCM in a Zoom call with reporters last week. 

She had just one moment of hesitation, Fuller said. Not because she was nervous — the 6-foot-2 goalkeeper can effortlessly kick the ball nearly the length of the field.

No, “there was a split second,” she said, where she just really wanted to go home to see her dogs. But that passed. She wanted to do what she could to help her school’s football team and thought it’d be a cool opportunity. 

“I never expected it to be this big,” Fuller said.

She made history with her kickoff in Vanderbilt’s Nov. 28 game against Missouri, becoming the first woman to play in a Power 5 game. She wore a helmet with “Play Like a Girl” stenciled on it, both to support a nonprofit, and as a way to reclaim the schoolyard taunt. 

Sarah Fuller
Fuller kicked off against Missouri on Nov. 28. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

“It used to be an insult,” she said. “I wanted to turn that on its head and say, no that’s actually a huge compliment, to play like a girl. We’ve fought through so many things and we’re showing up now. We’re breaking down these barriers.”

Fuller is not the first woman to play college football, but what she accomplished is momentous. Her idols, like LeBron James and Carli Lloyd, were pouring into her inbox with messages of support, and she was being hailed as an “inspiration for future generations” on SportsCenter. But there were detractors too, who have called the kick a publicity stunt and questioned her ability to take a hit.

Fuller said she hasn’t paid much attention to the negative feedback. 

She’d gotten used to being told she wasn’t fit enough or fast enough. It took her three-and-a-half years — over the course of which she broke both her feet and slipped a disc in her back — to earn a starting spot on the women’s soccer team.

“I have worked hard to get where I am. I was in the right spot at the right time to get called up on the football team, and have been working hard to perform for them,” she said. “So at the end of the day, I don’t care what the negative [response] is.”

Fuller was set to play again Saturday against Georgia, but that game was canceled because the Commodores have too many positive Covid-19 cases. But Fuller seems eager to continue her kicking career and is quickly easing into her new role as a role model.

Fuller offered the following advice to the young girls who may have seen a reflection of themselves when she took the field: “I really want to emphasize that it’s not always going to be easy. There’s gonna be ups and downs and the willingness to fight through the downs and cherish the ups, I think is really important. So just keep fighting and keep working hard and keep working towards your goals.”

Written and reported by Rachel Uda.