The 22-year-old defensive back just made history as the first female player to receive a full football scholarship, and that's just the beginning.
- Posted on Mar 14, 2019
Antoinette “Toni” Harris is making history, on the field and off.
The 22-year-old sophomore from East Los Angeles College has become the first woman to be offered a full football scholarship. Harris, who currently serves as a defensive back for her school’s team in California, has signed a letter of intent to play for Central Methodist University in Missouri, making her one of just a handful of women to be offered a scholarship to play a sport historically dominated by men.
While a few women have been offered partial scholarships to serve as kickers on collegiate teams, Harris is the first to receive a full scholarship to play a skilled position on the field. It’s a landmark for the sport to be sure, but for Harris, breaking glass ceilings is something she’s been doing since she was six-years-old.
The Detroit native picked up a pigskin young, playing for Redford Union High School in Michigan as a wide receiver and cornerback before finding her footing as a free safety. According to her mother, Uriia Jones, Harris had to petition school officials to let her play ball with the boys and fought against coaches who routinely warned her there was no place for her in a sport like football.
"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," Harris tells 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."
Instead, she went on to play for East Los Angeles College, helping her team go 4-6 after battling back from health issues.
In fact, compared to what she’s been fighting off the field, facing sexism in her sport doesn’t seem like such a big hurdle for Harris.
The athlete was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 18. She went into remission two years ago, but not before losing half her body weight and having her dreams of playing at the professional level nearly dashed. Harris credits her strong work ethic, and her faith, for seeing her through that difficult time.
"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 explains.
During last month’s Super Bowl, the defensive back appeared in a Toyota commercial about shattering perceptions. In it, Harris can be seen putting in work on the field, tackling opponents twice her size, lifting tires in the air, racing against the clock, as a voiceover lists all of the things people have told the young star she couldn’t do. It’s an inspiring clip, but for Harris, the attention she’s receiving after making history is just more motivation to perform well on the turf.
“In the end, you've got to push yourself,” Harris tells ESPN. “I'm going to focus on my goals. My ultimate goal is to excel at a four-year [university] and become the first female NFL player. I know I can get there."