During Super Bowl LIII, the New England Patriots weren’t the only ones making history with their sixth championship. While the always-popular commercials rolled, Toyota unveiled an ad for their RAV4 Hybrid that was “shattering perceptions.” The star of that commercial was East Los Angeles College defensive back Toni Harris, the first woman to ever play football at the California community college. As of February 26, 2019, she is now the first woman ever to sign a four-year college football scholarship as a skill position player.
Harris signed her National Letter of Intent to continue her college career playing defensive back for the Central Methodist University Eagles, a NAIA school in Missouri. The star of the Super Bowl ad proved that she was more than just talk, and now she’s getting the chance to prove all of her doubters wrong on the field.
“I picked Central Methodist because of the resilience within the school itself and how Coach [David] Calloway had been communicating with me before the Super Bowl stuff ever popped up,” Harris said.
Antoinette “Toni” Harris, a Detroit native who played high school football at Redford Union, has an incredible story to match her limitless ambition. Growing up in foster care, Harris walked on at the University of Toledo before a coaching change suddenly changed her plans. Then, she contracted ovarian cancer at 18 years old, which she would beat back just like everyone who doubts her.
“I’ve been told I won’t go far, I have no talent, and I’ll never make it to the NFL,” she told ESSENCE. “Some [players] are surprised, some are angry, and some are supportive. But I have a will never to quit. People are always telling me what I can’t do, and I love to prove them wrong.”
She rose to fame for becoming the first non-kicker ever offered a college football scholarship, but she’s certainly not the first to ever play. Kicker Becca Longo was the first woman to ever receive a college scholarship in football and played for Adams State University her freshman year. Shelby Osborne was a member of the Campbellsville University Tigers as a defensive back, but it’s uncertain if she earned a scholarship.
Harris, who might be the best of the bunch, chose CMU over scholarship offers from Bethany College, Adams State University, Graceland University and Kentucky Christian University. If her past is any indication, the 22-year-old safety is going to continue breaking down barriers every single day.
And if you think the first female football player to play free safety in college football is stopping there, then you’re just another obstacle for Antoinette Harris to run straight through.