22-year-old woman makes history with college football scholarship: 'Be so good they can't ignore you'

Paulina Cachero

Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

These are the words that football player Antoinette “Toni” Harris lives by — and has tattooed on the right side of her body with a pigskin. It’s also exactly how she broke through barriers for women in the male-dominated sport.

On Tuesday, Harris made history by becoming the first female non-kicker to sign a letter of intent, accepting a college scholarship at Central Methodist University in Missouri. She’s just the second woman (Becca Longo, a kicker from Arizona, is set to attend Adams State in Colorado) to get recruited to play with a college at the Division II level or higher.

The free safety announced her decision on Twitter writing, “Excited to announce I have committed to CMU to further my academic & athletic career…Exited to be an eagle.

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While Tuesday’s announcement has garnered a lot of media attention, this wouldn’t be the first time Harris’ achievements have made headlines. The 5-foot-7, 164-pound student first made headlines in January 2018 when she was offered a scholarship to play football at Bethany College in Kansas. She later became a household name when she starred in Toyota’s RAVA4 Super Bowl ad on “shattering perceptions” and exceeding expectations and assumptions.

Despite being only 22, Harris’ journey has been a long, hard fought one. She began playing football at the age of six and went on to play at Redford Union High School in Michigan as a wide receiver and a cornerback. Wanting to take her career to the university level, Harris had difficulty finding a junior college that would let her play. The Detroit native was even diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 18, losing half her body weight in the process.

“My family helped me stay grounded, and my faith,” Harris said during an interview with TODAY. “I did want to give up, I thought things were over… but I said, ‘You know what? I’ve fought through everything else in my life.’”

After recovering with the help of her friends and family, Harris eventually found an opportunity with East Los Angeles College in Calif., where she has played as a free safety the last two seasons.

“A lot of coaches didn’t believe in me,” Harris told ESPN in January. “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.”

She added, “I think my biggest pet peeve is people telling me that I can’t, so I have to prove them wrong.”

However, Harris doesn’t plan to stop her football career at the college level. The determined athlete eventually plans to tackle new territory for women with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

“The NFL is the dream,” Harris told espnW. “I’m going to be working toward that until the death of me. 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.”

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