Sarah Fuller’s 15 minutes of fame stretched out to half an hour on Monday when the Southeastern Conference selected Vanderbilt’s soccer-player-turned-placekicker as its special teams co-player of the week.
Fuller was given the recognition for becoming the first female player to participate in a game for a school from a Power 5 conference. The only action she saw during a 41-0 loss to Missouri was to deliver the second-half kickoff. It was a squibbed 30-yard effort to the right sideline.
Her credentials pale in comparison to those of Heather Sue Mercer, who never got her chance to play major-college football nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Vanderbilt soccer player Sarah Fuller made history
Sarah Fuller is an accomplished soccer player. The 6-foot-2 Texan was the goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, which captured the SEC championship. Football wasn’t in her plans until head coach Derek Mason found himself without a kicker available early in the week due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
By stepping on the field for one play against Missouri on Nov. 28, 2020, she followed the footsteps of Katie Hnida (New Mexico, 2003) and April Goss (Kent State, 2015), both of whom scored points in FBS games.
Vanderbilt plays No. 10 Georgia on Dec. 5, and it’s possible the team will still be without its regular kickers. Mason said after the Missouri game that he would welcome the opportunity to use Fuller again.
The decision, however, won’t belong to Mason. With his record having fallen to 27-55, including 0-8 this season, Vanderbilt administrators fired Mason over the weekend.
Duke gave a tryout to an award-winning female kicker
Twenty-seven years before Sarah Fuller shared an SEC player of the week award for squibbing a kickoff, Heather Sue Mercer was earning third-team all-state honors as the kicker for the state-champion Yorktown High School football team, just north of New York City.
After graduation, Mercer enrolled at Duke University. Following an unsuccessful walk-on tryout, Mercer stayed involved in football as a manager for the ACC team. When then-coach Fred Goldsmith cut her after another tryout in 1996, Mercer alleged he had made offensive remarks about her gender.
Mercer filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university but was rebuffed initially by a ruling that Title IX wasn’t applicable to contact sports and that coaches had discretion in shaping their rosters. Mercer then appealed to the Circuit Court.
Heather Sue Mercer wins $2 million on appeal
When Heather Sue Mercer’s discrimination case against Duke University went to trial, the wanna-be kicker and head coach Fred Goldsmith told vastly different stories.
Mercer testified that Goldsmith asked her, “Why do you insist on playing football? Why not try something like beauty pageants?”
Goldsmith said Mercer had no hope of making the team and that he was less blunt with her than with male prospects he’d had to cut.
“It was obvious she was trying to do something special,” Goldsmith said on the stand, according to LoHud.com. “I probably would have been a lot more brutal with a male. I would have said, ‘Sorry son, you just don’t have it.'”
The federal jury ruled against Duke and awarded Mercer $2 million, but she never got the chance to step on the field in a game.