Toni Harris is tackling barriers left and right.
The football player just became the first woman in history to receive a non-kicker football scholarship. Harris, a free safety, played football in high school and, later, at East Los Angeles Community College for two years. On Tuesday, she signed a letter of intent to play football at Central Methodist University, a Division 1 school in Fayette, Missouri.
“For them to believe in me and give me the chance, it’s an honor,” an emotional Harris said after signing her letter of intent.
Harris received six other offers to play football, including Adams State University, Graceland University and Bethany College. She joins Becca Longo, a kicker with Adams State University, who earned a football scholarship to the school last Spring.
The Detroit-native began playing football at the age of 6, and later played wide receiver and cornerback at Redford Union High School.
Standing at 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 164 pounds, Harris might not look like your typical contender. But the star safety doesn’t like when people underestimate her.
“My biggest pet peeve is people telling me that I can’t. So, I have to prove them wrong,” Harris told NBC Nightly News. “I do not let anything stop me.”
Her hard work and newfound fame recently landed her a Super Bowl ad for Toyota.
It’s hard to deny Harris’ perseverance: The 22-year-old was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 18, and lost half of her body weight. She’s also faced discrimination, harassment and even death threats for playing football.
“I have faced discrimination issues involving my gender, coaches telling me I’m not a college football player, no one would recruit me because I was a female and that I wasn’t strong, fast, or big as the guys,” Harris told Derekak.com, an entertainment and sports website. “I’ve even had death threats from people to make me quit.”
Harris’ dream is to make it the NFL and play for her favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks. She lives by the saying, “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” a phrase she has tattooed on her body, she told “The Today Show.”
When “Today” show co-host Carson Daly asked Harris how it feels to know that little girls all around the country want to be her, the football player responded: “They don’t have to be me, they can make their own legacy and create names for themselves,” she said, adding: “I believe the future is female.”
Friends and fans congratulated Harris’ historic signing on Twitter. Even the NFL took a moment to applaud her hard work and perseverance.