Toni can play with the best of them!
Antoinette “Toni” Harris is a Detroit native who says she’s always been a fan of football. Since she was about 4 she can remember enjoying the sport — though she also grew to love cheerleading and track-and-field over the years.
When she was in elementary school, she joined her first football team, continuing to play the sport throughout high school. And while it wasn’t an easy transition as the only girl, it solidified her passion for the game, Black Enterprise reports.
“It took them some time to warm up to me. But once they did, they were loving, they were supportive – and eventually everybody else got on board,” Harris told reporters.
Shoutout to Toni Harris for making history. The safety from Detroit committed to Central Methodist Tuesday, becoming the first woman to sign a letter of intent at a skill position in college football history. 👏 https://t.co/8piSyUPYKZ— Marshall Hughes (@marshallhughes) February 28, 2019
While smaller and younger than many of her male counterparts, Harris showed she could hold her own on the field. Senior year she won homecoming queen and everything seemed to be going well for her athletic pursuits. She always dreamed of playing as an athlete on the college level and once she graduated. But all of that was halted when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 18.
After fighting the harrowing battle, and losing half of her body weight before going into remission later that year, Harris was even more determined to see her dreams through. She enrolled at Golden West College, eventually enrolling at East Los Angeles College so she could play as a free safety with the team. After two years on the community college team, the offers began rolling in. Harris then made history as the first woman to receive a four year college football scholarship as a nonspecialist.
“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,” said Harris.
She signed her letter of intent and accepted the scholarship with Central Methodist University in 2019 — where she planned to continue her academic pursuits and play football in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. After signing, she received major deals on the table and was even featured in a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Super Bowl commercial.
Due to COVID-19, Harris still has a year of eligibility but has not yet decided how she will use it, Buffalo News reports. For now, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Southern California and continuing to play football for the Los Angeles Legends Sports Organization. Harris is also working as an NFL Ambassador, regularly offering her time to mentor young athletes and conduct sideline interviews during games that she posts to her social media channels.
A pioneer in football, Harris has already opened up the door for so many young women athletes. She still has dreams to play for the NFL with her favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks. In the meantime she’s doing what she loves while also trying to finish her degree.