Woman gets a college football scholarship to play defense on men’s team
FAYETTE, Mo. — Toni Harris is an undersized defensive back with huge dreams. The free safety wants to be the first woman to play in the NFL.
While that may be a long-shot wish, she is the first woman who has signed a letter of intent to attend college on a full football scholarship. Harris, 22, accepted the scholarship this week with Central Methodist University to play at the NAIA school.
“It feels super amazing and it’s been a long time coming,” she said Friday. “It’s overwhelming but I feel blessed to be in this position.”
Harris fielded several scholarship offers before selecting the school in Fayette, Missouri.
“I always try to push myself every single day and keep my faith in God to let me go as far as I want to go,” she said earlier this month before Toyota aired an advertisement about her during the Super Bowl.
The ad focused on how people underestimate her as a player.
“I’ve never been a big fan of assumptions,” Harris, who told CNN she is 5-foot-7 and 166 pounds, says in the spot.
Harris was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 18.
“I had a tumor inside of my stomach,” she told CNN affiliate KCBS/KCAL, in 2017. She went into remission later that year.
She said people try all the time to talk her out of playing football and one said she couldn’t move from high school football to college.
“I had a coach tell me before that I would never get to the next level because I was a lot smaller and not as fast as the other guys, so that moment taught me to never give up,” she told CNN. “From that moment then I told myself no one’s ever going to decide what I am going to do with my life. That’s my decision.”
Her mother said Harris is very headstrong.
“If she puts her mind to it, that’s what she is going to do,” Uriia Jones said.
Last year, Harris played three games as a sophomore for East Los Angeles College, and had three tackles and one pass breakup, according to the football team’s website. Her team went 4-6.
Central Methodist also went 4-6.
“As a coach, giving someone the opportunity to go to college and assist them in getting a degree, that’s what it’s all about,” head coach David Calloway said of Harris.
Jones said her daughter had to fight in high school — when she lived in the Detroit area — to be on the team. She and her mom met with school officials to convince them to give her the chance.
ESPN reported that kicker Rebecca Longo in 2017 signed a scholarship letter of intent to play at Adams State University, an NCAA Division II school in Colorado. Division II schools give partial scholarships to most players.
Longo, who redshirted during the 2017 season, did not appear in a game last year.
Another defensive player, Shelby Osborne, played at NAIA Campbellsville University in Kentucky on a partial scholarship, ESPN reported. According to the school’s website, she played in one game in the 2018 season.