Antoinette Harris, who also goes by Toni, has become the first female football player to receive a four-year scholarship to play the sport. In an exclusive interview with Blavity News, Harris divulged how her love for the game began as a young child, and lasted well beyond her battle with cancer. 22-year-old Harris told Blavity that she's been a football fan since she was four years old, and her goal now is to become the first female player in the NFL.
"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."
The Detroit native played football throughout grade school, but her time in high school was where she really began to take herself seriously.
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"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."
Harris not only won over her team, but also her school, becoming homecoming queen her senior year. Still, she's had to overcome her reservations in regards to her strength and proneness to injury.
"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."
Harris learned the power of conquering your fears at the age of 18, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and lost half of her body weight.
"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."
Harris stayed at the school another year before deciding it was time to make a new opportunity for herself. She enrolled in East Los Angeles College (ELAC) while still enrolled at Golden West, so that she could play free safety for the community college team.
Harris' time at the college has been significantly successful. After two years with her ELAC coach Bobby Godinez, she's been offered half a dozen scholarships to play. Now, she's made history becoming the first female football player to sign a letter of intent. She committed to Central Methodist University to continue her studies and her football career in the coveted National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Harris has not only been recognized by colleges nationwide, but by the multi-billion dollar automotive company Toyota. In January, the company premiered their Super Bowl commercial starring the football star along with their RAV4 Hybrid rollout.
YouTube | Toyota USA
"Shooting the Super Bowl commercial was super overwhelming, but super fun," Harris said. "It was a lot of long nights starting from about five in the morning to about 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. But I think that all of the work that was put in was worth it, and the commercial came out beautifully."
Harris' future plans are multifaceted. First, she hopes to play for the Seattle Seahawks, her favorite team.
"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."
However, Harris isn't limiting her future to the sport. She says that after her time in the NFL, she's planning on becoming a "homicide detective with a background in forensics."
Dream big or go home.
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