History was made Tuesday as Antoinette “Toni” Harris became the first female football player at a skill position to sign a letter of intent, committing to Central Methodist University in Missouri.
This a major accomplishment for both Toni and women altogether as gender roles and walls continue to fall off and now on the field.
If the 22-year-old 5-foot-7 safety from Detroit looks familiar it might be because she starred in a Toyota ad that played during the Super Bowl. She’s had a little buzz ever since getting offered a scholarship in Jan. 2018 to play football at Bethany College, an NAIA school in Kansas, and the momentum of her following has grown ever since.
The commercial was a tribute to Harris’ perseverance to become a football player despite all odds, including cancer.
Now that she’s officially signed, a new precedent has been set.
What makes Toni’s story so special is that she’s playing safety; not kicker, or place-holder or punter. Thus, meaning full-on contact and playing major contributions to the outcome of games.
In April, a female kicker from Arizona named Becca Longo became the first woman to sign a national letter of intent at the Division II level or higher, signing with Adams State in Colorado. Additionally, in 2014, Shelby Osborne signed with Campbellsville University in Kentucky as a defensive, but initially not on a scholarship.
Harris is in a league of her own…
Toni formally played at East Los Angeles College in California and is reportedly not the only woman to make the Methodist University squad. When speaking to the Detroit Free Press, she expressed her gratitude and commented on the journey its been.
“I feel like I keep doing what I’m doing and keep having faith in God, I can keep paving the way for little girls everywhere,” Harris said.
After being diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and kicking it into remission a year after then, now, becoming a scholarship football player at the next level, it’s safe to say she already has.
As for what’s next for Harris, she tells the Detroit Free Press that her goal is to one day play in the NFL. You don’t want to bet against her.
“I’m going to be working toward that until the death of me,” Harris says in an espnW Q&A. “Whether I go drafted or undrafted, I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep my faith and God is going to take me there.”
Whether or not Toni goes all the way to the NFL, Harris has already proven that doors will open with steadfast dedication. Her commitment to finding a program to accept her, especially when many slighted her without giving her a chance, is evidence of that.
In January she spoke to ESPN about those difficulties and how she had to keep trying despite the disappointment.”A lot of coaches didn’t believe in me,” said Harris.
“A coach told me, ‘Nobody’s ever going to play you to be at the next level.’ In the end, you’ve got to push yourself. I’m going to focus on my goals.”
Hopefully, Harris’ story inspires the next generation of women to pursue ambitions that they normally wouldn’t believe possible for them to accomplish.
Peep her highlights below.