By Dolores Aguilus
Antoinette Harris, also known as Toni Harris, began playing football when she was six years old, and played for Redford Union High School in Michigan as a wide receiver and cornerback before being moved to free safety. After high school, Harris moved to California to play free safety at East Los Angeles College, where she played for two years and became the first woman to play for that college. She even earned six offers to play a defensive football position at four-year universities.
Harris wants to be the first woman to play in the NFL. In January, she moved a step closer to her goal when she received a scholarship offer from Bethany College, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school in Kansas. NAIA schools can offer partial athletic scholarships, but athletes also can qualify for academic aid, which Harris does as an honors student at East Los Angeles College. Bethany Assistant Coach Tyrone Carter, who had previously coached at East Los Angeles, informed the coaching staff about Harris, and decided to extend her an offer.
Harris will become one of the first female non-kickers on a college football roster and may be the first to receive a scholarship offer. According to to ESPN, Harris stated that it was " pretty crazy," and it is "overwhelming but exciting at the same time." There have been multiple female athletes who have kicked for major college teams, including Katie Hnida at University of Colorado-Boulder and The University New Mexico, and April Goss at Kent State, but none received scholarships to come to school. There have been plenty of female athletes that played, but Harris would be the first at a skill position.
After one junior college coach did not allow her to play because of her gender, she came to East Los Angeles last summer. Throughout Harris’ life, many coaches did not believe that she could make it to the next level. That did not stop her from motivating herself to reach her goals and this offer is one step towards it. In the interview with ESPN she stated, "I can play at Bethany, so I can leave, but I think I would want to finish off my sophomore year. A lot of other schools are interested. The offers are going to be rolling in. My ultimate goal is to excel at a four-year [university] and become the first female NFL player. I know I can get there." Harris showed gratitude for the offer, but did not accept it because she wanted to keep her options open.
This has granted Harris opportunities, such as, starring in the Toyota Super Bowl LIII commercial. Her aspirations were aired for the whole world to see and to motivate other female athletes that anything is possible. Now, Harris attends Central Methodist University and plays as the safety and continues to work towards her goal every day.