For girls following Sarah Fuller’s football path, ‘now that door’s just wide open’

Over the course of her high school career, Sarah Fuller has started every game for her team. She’s also been named captain and an All-State player. Now that she’s in college at Northwestern University, the doors are wide open to play football on a big stage where there is no telling what might happen next

Sarah Fuller was a high school football player in Nashville, Tennessee. She had no aspirations to play college football and aspired instead to be an engineer. But when she graduated from Vanderbilt, her path changed. Now that door’s just wide open for the next generation of female athletes.

For girls following Sarah Fuller's football path, 'now that door's just wide open'

DENTON, Texas (KTRK) — Sarah Fuller walks into the Ryan High School lobby, a short drive from the University of North Texas, where she currently plays collegiate soccer.

Ally Kolba anticipates her arrival with glee. She’s anxious and eager, and when she sees Fuller walk in the door, she exclaims, “She’s so tall!” to her soccer coach.

When a buddy showed Fuller a video of Kolba kicking for Ryan High and said, “Have you seen this girl?” on the way back from a North Texas game early in the autumn, Fuller was intrigued.

It’s been impossible to keep track of how many times Fuller’s social media account has been tagged with videos of girls kicking footballs across the country in the year since she made two extra points for Vanderbilt to become the first woman to score in a Power 5 football game.

When her teammate inquired whether she had seen Kolba, she said no.

Her colleague exclaimed, “Dude!” “She’s right down the block!”

Ally Kolba is one of an increasing number of female high school football players who are successful. ESPN’s Elizabeth Lavin

Fuller went online and found the videos, then wrote Kolba a private message on social media, encouraging her to contact her if she ever needed anything. During her job at Wal-Mart, Kolba was running the cash register when her phone rang and she noticed the message.

Kolba describes himself as “shocked.” “I was really freaked out. I took a breather and went for a run.”

If Fuller needed any more proof that her choice to play football had an effect, Kolba is the live embodiment: a young lady who wanted to attempt football but now has the confidence and increased motivation to do so after seeing Fuller do it.

Despite the fact that their journeys to football were so different, they all had one thing in common: they needed to discover the bravery, fortitude, and steel will to achieve something that required much more than just kicking a ball.


Sarah Fuller’s football career may have been brief, but her effect has been significant. Icon Sportswire/Getty Images/Matthew Maxey

TAKING A STEP BACK When Fuller decided to kick for the football squad in November 2020, she confesses she was a bit naive about how her life would alter. Fuller, who was a goalkeeper for the Vanderbilt soccer team at the time, had no desire to play football. In fact, before she was approached to try out, she had never kicked a football.

Because to COVID-19 procedures, practically all of Vanderbilt’s specialists were quarantined, and the team needed a kicker to fill in or risk forfeiting their game against Missouri. The holder was the only member on the squad who could kick, and Vanderbilt needed him to hold. With no other options, then-Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason phoned assistant soccer coach Ken Masuhr and asked if anybody could help.

Fuller came to mind because of her mental tenacity as well as her powerful leg and 6-foot-2 size. Fuller may have been oblivious to the impending attack, but her instructors were not.

She went to the audition in her soccer cleats and wowed the coaches enough to get a position on the squad. Fuller went through the regular special teams exercises on her first official day, including practicing with a full rush coming at her for the first time. She got it just right. “At that time, I felt like all the boys appreciated me,” Fuller adds.

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She made her debut against the Tigers on November 28. “I wish I could have videotaped that discussion with my father,” Fuller recalls, “where he was like, ‘I believe this is going to be a huge issue.” “I was thinking to myself, “Really?” That is what everyone is saying. I suppose it is. I’m not sure. It only became larger and bigger.”

Fuller made history by being the first woman to start a Power 5 game in the second half. Mason said Fuller did precisely as she was taught when it came to the squib kick. Vanderbilt lost 41-0, and she had no chances to score. Fuller, on the other hand, was pleased with how things turned out. She then went to her boyfriend’s place to pick up a pizza and celebrate with him.

However, as she got outside the building, she discovered she didn’t have the key. As she balanced the pizza box and all of her football gear, she observed a couple approaching the door and said, “Can you allow me in?” They were all staring at her.

They said, “Are you the girl who just kicked?”

“Yeah,” answered Fuller. “Would you mind letting me inside the building?”

They inquired, “Weren’t you recently in Missouri?”

“That’s right, I was. But right now all I want to do is eat pizza “she said

“That was the first time I was recognized by someone,” Fuller explains.

Fuller left football behind and moved to North Texas to complete her soccer career. ESPN’s Elizabeth Lavin

She was spotted for the first time in person. Stories and videos about Fuller’s historic turn had gone viral by the time she returned from Missouri. Though she was highly praised for stepping up to aid the football squad, her social media feed was flooded with sexist and insulting remarks, and analysts disputed everything from the merits of the squib kick to whether a woman really belonged on the field.

Fuller tried to ignore them as much as she could. She concentrated on what she needed to do to get healthy rather than worrying about what was to come.

On Dec. 12, when Vanderbilt took on Tennessee, there was a lot of excitement in the Kolba household. Ally had decided months before that she wanted to play football. Ally, a lifetime soccer player, was inspired by the camaraderie on the football team and decided to begin practice kicking while keeping it a secret from her parents and coach.

“I felt like people were going to laugh at me,” Kolba said.

She was soon able to kick a 40-yard field goal and share the footage to her social media sites. People at her school encouraged her to try out for the football squad. The season was nearing to an end at this time, and she didn’t know what to do.

Then she and her mother, Eileen, watched Fuller kick two extra points from their home 700 miles away from Vanderbilt. Fuller has already agreed to continue her soccer career at North Texas. Their paths would cross in some bizarre, cosmic manner, unbeknownst to both of them.

Kolba remarked, “It really kindled a light since I didn’t know any other girls who were kicking.” “Knowing I wasn’t alone helped a lot since there are other individuals who do the same thing. I’m confident in my abilities.”


After witnessing footage of Kolba’s kicks on social media, Fuller reached out to her. Fuller is pleased of her contribution to the development of future female football players. ESPN’s Elizabeth Lavin

After the North Texas soccer season concluded in late November, FULLER and KOLBA met. They exchanged anecdotes about their experiences for two hours. Fuller hadn’t kicked a football since the Tennessee game last year, so she was completely out of practice if she wanted to swap kicks in a friendly match, as Kolba jokingly suggested.

However, there was no denying their mutual adoration.

“How great is it that she wanted to do this long before she saw anybody else do it?” According to Fuller. “To me, that’s what’s cool. That’s fantastic.”

Kolba began training with kicking coach Jaden Oberkrom, a former All-American kicker at TCU who now works with kickers in Texas and Oklahoma, after deciding to try out for the football team. Kolba already possessed the leg strength, according to Oberkrom. She just needed to work on her technique.

Kolba quickly learned, and when she asked Ryan football coach Dave Henigan if she could try out for the squad, he had only one response: Of course.

Henigan added, “I’m around her enough to know it wasn’t simply, ‘Oh, I want to dip my toe in this thing.” “‘I want to do this, and my mind is made up,’ she said. She was of the proper mind. She had a decent enough leg, as you could see. But the progress she achieved as a result of her hard work made it very simple for her to reply, ‘Absolutely.’”

Kolba was Ryan High’s reserve kicker in 2021, and she made all nine of her extra point tries. Every day, and particularly once soccer season starts, the work ethic Henigan says is on show. Kolba begins his football career as a member of the special teams. She then walks over to a nearby field to join the soccer team in practice. After that, she’ll return to football, where she’ll work on field goals, kickoffs, and onside kicks on a smaller turf field with the assistance of soccer or football teammates. She remains until well after sunset.

“‘Why is a female joining the team?’ wondered a couple of the males at first. But I don’t believe it was because of her gender. It was all about what she could do to the group “Ethan Wood, a teammate who sometimes stays after practice to assist Kolba, agrees. “Her excitement for it, as well as her ability to remain late and work like any of the other males, particularly when they treated her equally, contributed significantly to her success. I don’t mind remaining around to assist her since she’s a teammate, and I’ll treat her the same as the rest of the men.”

Kolba claims she was welcomed into the team and received no negative feedback. Kendall Pryor, Kolba’s soccer coach, has been essential in her development as a football player, working as both a coach and a mentor. If Pryor wanted to work as a football assistant, Henigan says he would employ her.

After warmups, the middle school football team for their opponent gathered on the sideline and gave Kolba taps on the helmet, according to Pryor, who tries to make every football game.

“The younger kids looking up to her is a game changer in and of itself,” Pryor said. “‘That is really cool!’ the small boys exclaim as they stare at you. ‘Way to go!’”

Kolba joins in, saying, “When those youngsters attempt to kick, they usually don’t know how to stand the ball up, so I’ll say, “Here, I’ll show you,” and I’ll teach them how to stand it up. Alternatively, I could hold it for them and they kick it, in which case I’d be hyping him up. A group of youngsters were chatting about me and asking, ‘Can I have a fist bump?’ during one of the games. They’re all familiar with my name. I want to be someone people look up to, particularly small girls, so that they can say, “I want to kick, too,” and then they can be the future Ally.”

Or Sarah in the future.


FULLER’S HISTORICAL TURN HAS YET TO BE DETERMINED IN TERMS OF HOW FAR AND WIDE HER IMPACT WAS. Fuller isn’t the first female player to score in a college game. Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of girls participating in high school football. The National Federation of State High School Associations recorded 2,404 females playing football in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. This is almost double the number reported in 2009. (1,249).

When you Google “girls high school football players,” you’ll get results from all around the nation. The majority, but not all, are kickers. Girls playing football is clearly not as uncommon as it was two decades ago.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that what Fuller did was far more visible to parents and girls, not only because she played for an SEC school, but also because her kicks went viral on social media, increasing access to that moment in ways that did not exist when Katie Hnida became the first woman to score in an FBS game for New Mexico in 2003.

Kolba is only one of many examples. Moline High School in Moline, Illinois, has four female kickers, three on the varsity team and one on the junior varsity team. Caroline Hazen, who has committed to play soccer at Northern Iowa, began her career in the same manner as Fuller did. Coach Mike Morrissey had no kickers in his program three years ago. Hazen was the squad’s greatest soccer player, and he ultimately persuaded her to try out for the team.

She was a sophomore who had never kicked a football before. But Hazen persevered, and the more she kicked, the more she relished the experience. She was named first-team all-conference and second-team All-Metro as a senior this past season. But along the way, she persuaded Vivian Veto, a soccer teammate, to kick. Kiersten Bailey, a newcomer to the school this year, also played on the varsity squad, while Charlise Martel played on the JV team.

This year, Hazen, Veto, and Bailey all scored in the same game, marking the first time in school history that three female kickers scored in the same game. Morrissey sees no problem with the lack of male kickers on the squad. He said, “It’s not even anything where we look at it like that anymore.” “These are our kickers, and they’re a valuable member of the squad. You know, it doesn’t make a difference. That’s the allure of it.”

Despite the fact that Hazen had already begun her football career before Fuller’s kick, she praised Fuller as inspirational.

“I was anxious for her because I knew she was on such a large platform,” Hazen said, “but I was so pleased to see someone do it at the next level because it just made me feel like this is going to keep expanding.” “From what I’ve seen in my own program, I believe female football players are becoming more acceptable.” I’ve heard that a nearby school has a female kicker. So just opening it up to younger girls who need to see someone like Sarah Fuller succeeding at such a high level and realize, “I’m just like her, I can do it, too.”

Katie Lindsay of Van Meter High School in Iowa became the first female to score points in an Iowa state football championship game, scoring two extra points and kicking a 27-yard field goal in a 17-14 victory. Though she had never heard of Fuller before deciding to try out, she may wind up leaving a legacy of her own by making state history and inspiring other girls along the way. Lindsay now wants to attempt to restart her college career, something Kolba also wants to pursue.

Even if it’s anecdotal, Oberkrom finds a definite link between Fuller and rising female interest. He has worked with three females full-time in the past year, and ten have been in to test it out, which is more than at any other time.

Oberkrom said, “They all know who she is.” “You could see she was a role model for them. I believe that many females would want to give it a go and try something new. Plus, there are a lot of talented females out there. Sarah just inspired a lot of people to come out of their shells and chase their dreams.”

It takes a lot of mental toughness to persist with it. When they initially join the team, they typically feel uneasy. Lindsay recalls being neglected at the start of one of her summer camps. Lindsay explains, “They grew accustomed to me after that.”

Kolba and Hazen, like Fuller, claimed they get a lot of hate on social media, including remarks like “Girls don’t belong in football.” Hazen was accused of executing a “publicity stunt” by others. On top of that, they’re under pressure to succeed, knowing that if they miss a kick or fail on a kickoff, they’ll be mocked and ridiculed right away.

“I knew I couldn’t screw up the first time I kicked in a game because there would be footage and it would go everywhere, and no one would take me seriously,” Kolba said. “I really want people to realize that I’m here for the right reasons and not for the attention.”

In reaction, Fuller says, “I tried to remove that mental part out of it because there was so much bearing on it.” “I hope we reach a stage where we’re regarded equally to any other kicker or player. We’re not quite there yet, but we’ll get there.”

The most difficult thing, according to Fuller, was not the self-imposed pressure but what she experienced on social media.

Fuller described the experience as “overwhelming.” “‘No, I don’t have to do this,’ I might have broken. This isn’t my cup of tea.’ I’m proud of myself for persevering, not just because of myself, but also because I understood there was more at stake. It was more of a representation of what was going on for women and men, so that everyone could see that it was feasible.”

She looks at Kolba. “Obviously, now that I’ve heard your experience, I’m thinking to myself, “I’m pleased I did it.” You can now take the initiative and really do it. That’s great. I had my little moment. I’m taking a step back, and you may take my place if you want.”

Kolba remarked, “I’m ready to face all the hate if it means someone else can come in after me.”

“Exactly,” replies Fuller. “I had the same feeling.”

“Shoot,” Kolba says, “someone may say something really terrible to me.” “But, let’s assume, after I graduate, another young soccer player joins the team and kicks after me. I’m all in if it means people would treat her better since they’ve already taken it out on me.”

Pryor takes it even farther.

“I believe the door is now completely open,” she adds. “There will be an amazing number of females who will simply say, ‘OK, I’m going to go play.’”

Fuller describes it as “completely untapped potential.” “There’s a whole set of people you haven’t considered that would be better in certain situations. You haven’t even bothered to look. That is what excites me about it.”

Fuller knew she’d be done playing football when she went to North Texas, and she’s happy with it. Soccer was and continues to be her first passion. She is unsure about staying in North Texas for another year.

She just joined NOCAP Sports, a name, image, and likeness platform, as director of athlete relations, and she continues to promote women in sports via social media and other channels. Kolba is a senior who has informed her coaches and parents that she want to pursue kicking in college.

A few lesser institutions, such as Kansas Wesleyan and Sam Houston State, have contacted her to test her interest, but her future is far from certain beyond her desire to try it out. Oberkrom is credited with helping her come up with the concept. “He didn’t look at me and think, ‘Oh, she’s just a female,’” Kolba said. “When I told him I wanted to play collegiate football, he said he could help me get there.”

Fuller beams, certain that kicking for Vanderbilt was something she was “supposed to do, like it was my mission.”

“I’m not a football fan. “It was something that occurred to me,” Fuller said. “It’s good to know that Ally actually enjoys and wants to do this.” And that’s exactly what I’d want to see: someone like her coming in and saying, “Hey, this is my thing,” which I think is fantastic.

“To be honest, I believe she’s cooler than I am.”

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