By Steven Adamo
Huskies’ own Antoinette “Toni” Harris announced at a press conference yesterday that she will be playing football for the Central Methodist University Eagles this June.
Harris, a free safety, is the first female positioned player to sign a letter of intent for a university. According to Harris, the head coach at the university reached out to her and offered the full scholarship after seeing her football highlights.
While holding back tears, Harris referred to her coaches and teammates as an extended family— grateful for their support. “I’m going to miss it a lot. It was hard, but they gave me the chance and they didn’t have to,” Harris said.
“I’m treated fairly by my teammates and my coaches. They don’t take it easy… I think I’m going to miss that most.”
Head coach Bobby Godinez said that he believes that Harris’ moment will open doors for other female football players, too. As Harris’ coach, he challenged her no differently than he would with the other players.
“I bring up the word resilience because she has been through a lot of adversity, but nobody pushes through that adversity more than we see with her,” Godinez said.
Diane Stankevitz, East Los Angeles College Athletic Trainer, said that when she first met Harris and thought she was on the track team. One of the male football players told Stankevitz that she’s actually on the football team.
“I considered her a football player and treated her no differently than anybody else on the team,” Stankevitz said. “The only difference was, she’s a football player who happened to be a woman.”
Harris listed ‘adversity’ as her biggest struggle with being a female player on a predominantly male sport.
“Not only is it hard for men to have the mentality to play the game of football, but my mentality has to be ten times stronger than anybody else’s to play,” Harris said.
Jalen Ross, defensive back for the ELAC football team, said that Harris was no different than any other player on the team.
He said that her presence on the team inspired him to become a better player. “We get in the weight room, she’s lifting more than me and I’m like, I need to step my game up,” Ross said. “I’m ready to see her on the next level.”
Regarding the recent reports about head injuries in the game, Harris said that it does cross her mind, but she doesn’t pay much attention to it.
“If I think about getting injured every time I’m going to be on the field, then most likely that’s when you’ll get injured,” Harris said. “You have to have fun with it.”
Harris’ goal is to become the first female in the NFL, but even if she falls short on that goal, she has a backup plan: a bachelors and masters in criminal justice with a background in forensics.
“Academics come first. If it doesn’t happen, then I can just pave the way for another girl to come out and play, or even start a women’s NFL,” Harris said. The sky’s not the limit when there’s footprints on the moon.”