Toni Harris, a defensive back has faced a lot of resistance on and off the field. But she has shown strength and courage in her ability to push back. This has helped her to become the first female football player to receive a full four-year scholarship to play college football.

Harris was recently featured in an advertisement for Toyota that aired during the Super Bowl which was focused on how people underestimated her abilities as an athlete because of her size and gender. Being 5-foot-7-inches and 166 pounds she is considerably smaller than most defensive backs but that hasn’t held Harris back from achieving her goals. In an interview with Blavity, she explained how she pursued football…

“My interest started when I was younger, watching my cousin play for the Westside Steelers,” Harris said. “I had always been a big fan of cheerleading and track-and-field, but I wanted to do something different.”

She played throughout grad school, mostly with her cousins and friends but didn’t start to pursue it seriously until high school. Harris and her mother had to fight for her place on the team, taking it up with school officials to convince them to give her a chance.

“When I first joined the team, my teammates weren’t really accepting. It took them some time to warm up to me,” Harris admitted. “But once they did, they were loving, they were supportive — and eventually everybody else got on board.”

“I was more worried because I was younger and I wasn’t as big as everybody,” Harris told Blavity. “But I also thought about the safety protocols of getting concussions and going head-up with people. At the end of the day, I told myself, ‘I cannot allow myself to live in fear.’ You don’t really live, if you live in fear.”

In 2017, when Harris was 18, she was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer. Following treatments, she went into remission later that year. This did not slow her down and she moved to California with the intent of playing football for Golden West College. She explained…

“Once I went through remission, I moved to California to play for Golden West College,” Harris said. “But the coach there didn’t allow me to play, because he said I wasn’t a college football player.”

Many people tried to talk Harris out of pursuing college football, including being told that she would not be able to transition from high School to college football. In an interview with CNN, she shared…

“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.”

For her sophomore year of college, Harris transferred to East Los Angeles College where she went on to play three games with their team. In those three games, she had three tackles and one pass break up; her team went 4-6. After two seasons with East Los Angeles College, Harris was offered half a dozen scholarships by other colleges to play football for them and after some deliberation on which school she wanted to attend; Harris became the first female football player to sign a letter of intent. She committed to Central Methodist University to finish her studies and to play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics with a full scholarship.

“I believe in the head coach Pete Carroll, who takes chances on people who are underrated,” said Harris. “Although, if I couldn’t play for the Seahawks, I wouldn’t mind playing for any other team in the NFL — as long as I got my chance.”

Harris dreams of being the first female player in the NFL but isn’t limiting her future to the sport. She is pursuing college with the plan on becoming a “homicide detective with a background in foresnics.”

As Dr. Jennifer Welter, the first female NFL coach says, “Play Big” and Harris most definitely embodies that.

By Dirk Smith