Sarah Fuller: historic Vanderbilt kicker, goalie reflects a year later

When Sarah Fuller took the field a year ago for the Vanderbilt football team, the college senior took the world by storm, empowering women of all ages to do what many thought. be impossible: break down barriers and write history.

In other words, play like a girl.

Much like that phrase she placed on the back of her helmet during her days playing for the Commodores, Fuller has since become an icon in women’s sports as the girl who stepped up when a team needed help. someone.

Fuller became the first woman to play for a Power 5 football team when she kicked off for Vanderbilt on November 28, 2020 against Missouri. Two weeks later, she then became the first woman to score in a Power 5 game with a pair of extra points against Tennessee.

But before there was football, there was football.

“I started playing football when I was five,” Fuller says. “I started out as a midfielder, but my coach said to me, ‘Well, you’re tall,’ then I played the goalkeeper. I thought it was a punishment.

The path to becoming “Fuller the Placekicker” took a long time. Fuller quit football for a year at the age of 12 because she didn’t like being a babysitter. After a year of hiatus, Fuller returned, met his goalie coach, and was ready to try again.

“I think the job fits my personality,” Fuller says with a laugh. “I can be loud and meet people, that’s great.”

When Fuller was in her sophomore year in high school, she began to seriously consider expanding her career in college. To focus more on soccer, Fuller quit playing volleyball and joined an ECNL team in Dallas called the D’Feeters Kicks, and was eventually called up to a national team camp.

“It was just the goalies,” Fuller recalls. “There’s a photo at the bottom of my Instagram, and it’s me, Casey Murphy is there, Laurel [Ivory], who is in Virginia, all of those people who are still around and still great in football today.

Fuller was getting stares from a few Division II schools, and eventually Vandy arrived after seeing a movie of her playing. It was a school she had never heard of, but Fuller’s parents encouraged her to take a look.

“My parents told me to look because it’s a great school in the SEC,” Fuller says. “It’s just in Nashville, so we took a trip there, and that was all I could have asked for.”

It was that summer that Fuller made a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

Kicking has always been a skill possessed by the 6’2 “goaltender. Fuller could throw the ball 60 yards as a high school student in Wylie, Texas. By the time she was a freshman at Vanderbilt, Fuller was ready to play and more horny than ever.

Instead of tying her crampons in freshman, however, Fuller wore a cast – a broken foot would put her on the sidelines and she saw no game time.

By the time she was in her sophomore year, Fuller was completely healed and helped save a shutout in the only game she played for the Commodores that year. But the injury struck again and Fuller ended up with an injured disc in his back.

Fuller, it seems, was prone to injury. Her junior year, the babysitter ended up with a broken hairline on her other foot. As she was finally about to play on the field, she recorded her first start and first solo shutout against Chattanooga.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and sent everyone home.

“I had been through hell and came back,” Fuller says. “There have been several times that I have thought about quitting. I thought of the transfer. I just didn’t know if this was the level I should play at if I got injured all the time. I had a lot of days calling my parents crying.

With the uncertainty of a season during the pandemic, Fuller still announced the preseason in July 2020. It became clear that this was the moment Fuller had been waiting so patiently: she saw game time in 12. matches with a record of 8-3-0. Fuller has had a string of shutouts after shutouts for more than a month, and the Commodores would enter the SEC tournament as a seventh seed.

The Commodores have gone through the competition. Fuller recorded an assist on a quarterfinal goal against Tennessee, when she effortlessly propelled the ball to the other end of the field. Fuller and her teammates faced Arkansas in the final, defeating them 3-1 and winning Vandy’s first SEC women’s football title since 1994.

“I’m really glad I persevered,” Fuller says. “I got to go there and do what I always thought I could. I’m all the more proud to have won the championship during the pandemic because it was sometimes so difficult, just mentally very difficult to do, but we got there. “

Celebrations for Fuller only lasted a few days when he was asked to try for the football team, which was in desperate need of a kicker. Vanderbilt doesn’t have a men’s football team, leaving Fuller as one of the only choices to fill the spot.

Her parents were driving home to Texas from Alabama, where the SEC Championship was being held, when Fuller called to tell them she was going to try soccer.

Later that same day, Fuller called his father and he said, “You know this is a big deal, don’t you? “

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And his father was right. The goalkeeper-turned-kicker didn’t turn around to Vanderbilt’s winless football team. But it had a great effect on those who watched the story unfold.

On the back of Fuller’s helmet was a plaque that said Play like a girl– a nod to the non-profit organization of the same name that empowers girls through sport and helps them propel themselves into male-dominated fields, such as STEM.

“It was just an idea that occurred to me,” Fuller recalls. “I kind of pushed for that on the back of my helmet because some guys had stuff on the back of their helmet that they were supporting and I was like, ‘I want to do this. “”

Fuller said the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as she felt she had a bunch of little moments that put her on the right track. After becoming a media sensation, Fuller reflected on her time in the limelight, something she didn’t fully grasp when she lined up for that extra point.

“I see this as a responsibility,” Fuller says. “I know so many people are watching, and I want to do the right thing. Continuing to support women in any way I can is my big thing. I still have people who tell me that I am a great inspiration or that I gave them the courage to try football.

Fuller knows like everyone that the future is full of endless possibilities – she mentioned that she tried to play professional football and find the path that would lead her down the right path.

For now, a year later, after having had time to analyze the impact she has had on women and girls in sport, the former placekicker is a graduate student at the University of North Texas. Fuller is back as a babysitter, which she loves the most.

“My coach made it clear that I would not do anything football related while I was here.”

Mackenzie Meaney is a contributor for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to increasing the visibility of women and girls in sport.


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