Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller trotted on the field, stepped back from the tee and did her job.
She sent the opening kickoff of the second half of Saturday’s matchup between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Missouri Tigers, a squib kick, to the right side of the field that was recovered at around the Tigers’ 35-yard line. And when her job was done, she trotted off the field to the roar of the crowd in Columbia, Missouri. That squib kick marked the first time a woman ever played in a Power 5 college football game.
It had been 17 years since a woman played college football, when Katie Hnida hit two extra points for New Mexico in 2003. Fuller never got the chance to try a field goal — the Commodores’ offense couldn’t get in field goal range the entire game — but her appearance made history all the same.
Before that, Fuller had just emerged victorious with the Vanderbilt soccer team in the SEC tournament. Fuller, a goalkeeper, allowed four goals over as many games, and the Commodores defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 3-1 to take home the trophy last Sunday.
She’d been packing her bags to go home the next day when the football team asked if she’d be interested in playing at kicker. Her response?
“OK, I’ll be there in an hour.”
Sarah Fuller didn’t just show up in pads on Saturday. She was a Vanderbilt Commodore, and when she was called upon to do her job, she did exactly what she needed to do.
“I thought she punched it exactly where she needed to punch it,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said after the game.
And she didn’t stop there, either. At halftime, before her historic kickoff, Fuller spoke in the locker room to fire up a scoreless team.
"I just wanted more energy on the sidelines. To relate it to the SEC Championship, our sideline is what kept us going,” she said. "We needed to get pumped up. Whether it's a first down or whatever it is, we need everyone supporting one another."
When she took the field to play against Missouri on Saturday, the back of her helmet bore a single mantra: “Play like a girl.”
But what does it mean to play like a girl?
For Fuller, it meant taking the opportunity to make history when the football team called. It meant that she had to do her job and execute like any player on the team, and with her squib kick, she did just that. To her, it meant that when the sideline was silent following a Vanderbilt first down, she let the team know during her halftime speech that such behavior isn’t how her soccer team won the SEC Championship tournament a few weeks prior. Playing like a girl meant that, when she wasn’t prompted or asked to talk, she fired up her team in the locker room when they came off a particularly dreadful half.
“Sarah gave a speech at halftime. She pumped us up,” Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright said after the game. “That's just who she is, and we appreciated that.”
Sarah Fuller is a champion. She’s a Division I NCAA athlete. She’s the first woman to ever play in a Power 5 college football game. But most importantly, on Saturday, Fuller was a Vanderbilt Commodore.
That is what playing like a girl means. I know I could never do any of those things, but when I saw her out there on Saturday lining up to kick, she inspired me and so many others across the globe to try and play like a girl in everything we do, too.
Give ‘em hell, Sarah Fuller. Keep playing like a girl.
Contact River Wells at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells.
Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller (32) at the Commodores' game against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020.