LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — It was a dream come true for number 31 suiting up on the football field recently for East L.A. Community College.
“The crowd was going crazy…chanting.. ‘lets go Toni.’”
Toni is short for Antoinette – the first female football player at East L.A. CC
There have been many females kickers in football, but Toni Harris plays free safety.
“I love the sport so much but I’ve been turned down so much.” Harris said.
Harris, 21, started playing football as a young girl in Detroit but was eventually kicked off her team because she was a girl. She turned to gymnastics and even cheerleading but what she really wanted was to play football.
“I guess it’s the passion I had for it.” And she finally got her chance in high school. “I’m getting a little emotional about…the fact that he gave me a chance and believed in me, it put so much joy in my heart.”
Harris doesn’t fit the stereotypical “Tom Boy” mold.
In high school she was named homecoming queen and admits she likes dresses more than pants. That might be one of the reasons people constantly tried to talk her out of playing football.
“All the time. They still do. People tell me like ‘oh it’s cool you play football… but you’ll never make it… and you shouldn’t be doing it.’ ”
Overcoming obstacles is nothing new for Harris. At age 4 she was placed in foster care and was moved around until being adopted nine years later. Then she got the scare of her life at just 18.
“I found out I had Ovarian cancer stage one, I had a tumor inside of my stomach.”
Harris conquered cancer but there was no guarantee she’d play college football.
But the Huskies head coach Bobby Godinez says she proved herself at every practice.
“When she first approached me… naturally I was a little nervous… I didn’t want anybody getting hurt.” Godinez said. “She’s earned everybody’s respect… her resilience, her perseverance, everything that she kind of encompasses, kinda bled through into everybody, after that we said we gotta get her on the field .”
She got her chance last Saturday. At 5-foot-6, 160 pounds this free safety has to tackle men who are well over 6-feet tall and 200 pounds.
“You have to overcome your fears if you want to play this game.”
She says she’s treated like an equal and actually finds herself apologizing after making a good tackle.
“When they get teased about it, I don’t want them to think ‘you’re being tackled by a girl,’ I’m a football player.”
Harris is breaking ground playing such a physical position.
“I feel like anything that comes my way I can overcome it and that’s probably why I’ve overcome so much stuff in my life.”
Harris hopes to play for a four-year college and eventually play for the NFL.