College Sports

Safety Toni Harris makes history by signing with Missouri NAIA football team

Antoinette “Toni” Harris made history Tuesday when she signed a letter of intent to play football at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo.

According to Central Methodist, Harris is “set to become the first female football player in school history and the first female skill position player to sign a letter of intent to play college football on a scholarship.”

Harris made the announcement Tuesday at East Los Angeles College, where she played safety last season. According to the school’s website, Harris appeared in three games and was credited with three tackles and a pass breakup as a safety. She’s listed at 5-foot-5, 135 pounds with Detroit as her hometown.

In addition to Central Methodist, Harris had a scholarship offer to play at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan.

Harris appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Toyota featuring an empowering message about women athletes narrated by Jim Nantz, and said she selected Central Methodist and coach David Calloway before her popularity increased after the advertisement.

“I picked Central Methodist because of the resilience within the school itself and how Coach Calloway had been communicating with me before the Super Bowl stuff ever popped up,” Harris said.

Central Methodist is a member of the NAIA’s Heart of America Athletic Conference along with Baker, MidAmerica Nazarene and Benedictine.

“As a coach, giving someone the opportunity to go to college and assist them in getting a degree, that’s what it’s all about,” Calloway said.

Women have played college football, mostly place kickers. A female defensive back, Shelby Osborne, appeared in one game for Campbellsville (Ky.) University last fall.

Harris played in high school at Redford Union outside of Detroit. A highlight of her season came in the homecoming game when she played in the first half and was announced as the homecoming queen at halftime.

She wanted to play football in college but those plans were delayed when she was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer. In a story that appeared in the Detroit Free Press, Harris said she went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy and went into remission in December 2015.

“I think my biggest pet peeve is people telling me that I can’t, so I have to prove them wrong,” Harris said Tuesday on NBC News.

She moved to Los Angeles for college and football and enrolled at East Los Angeles. Now, Harris is headed to mid-Missouri.

“I feel that Central Methodist will be the perfect place for me,” she said.

Harris said she wants to one day play in the NFL.

“I hate when people put limitations on my life,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “Don’t do that. It’s not your life. Don’t put limitations on something I know I can achieve.”

From covering the World Series to the World Cup, Pete has done a little bit of everything since joining The Star in 1997. He writes about baseball and has a quirky blog that augments The Star’s coverage of area teams.