For Women’s History Month, A Celebration Of Firsts By Women’s College Football Players

Sarah Fuller became the first woman to score in a game between two Power Five conference teams, nailing a pair of extra points for Vanderbilt against Tennessee in 2020. Credit: Vanderbilt Athletics

The Heisman Trophy is more than a trophy and recognizes achievements in all walks of college football.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’d like to spotlight the contributions women’s college football players have made in the sport throughout the last few decades.

Let’s start with the first woman to play and score in a college football game. That distinction goes to Liz Heaston, who played two games as a placekicker for Willamette University, then a member of the NAIA, in 1997.

A two-time All-American on Willamette’s women’s soccer team, Heaston made her debut — and history — on the gridiron on Oct. 18, 1997, when she connected on two extra points against Linfield College in a 27-0 win. 

She entered the record books with her first extra point with 57 seconds left in the first half to give the Bearcats a 14-0 lead. Her second PAT came in the fourth quarter for a Willamette team that would go unbeaten in the regular season. 

The needle was moved again in 2001 when Ashley Martin, competing for Jacksonville State, became the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I-AA game.

A member of the Gamecocks’ women’s soccer team, Martin joined the school’s football team as a backup kicker and was called upon for an extra point on Aug. 30, 2001, against Cumberland. She made three extra points in a 72-10 win. 

Exactly two years later, Katie Hnida became the first woman to score in a Division 1-A game.

Hnida first found success in high school, making 27-of-28 extra point attempts and all three field goal attempts as a high school senior in Littleton, Colo.

She began her college career at nearby Colorado, where she was a walk-on kicker for the Buffaloes and became the first woman to suit up for Division 1-A games as well as the first to suit up for a Division 1-A bowl game in the 1999 Bowl.

She transferred to New Mexico in 2001 and in 2002, became the first woman to play in an NCAA Division 1-A bowl game in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, where her extra point attempt against UCLA was blocked.

She finally got on the scoreboard on Aug. 30, 2003, when she twice made extra points in the Lobos’ blowout win over Texas State.

Just two weeks later, Tonya Butler moved the proverbial chains again and became the first woman to kick a field goal in an NCAA football game.

Butler scored 165 points as a prep placekicker and became the first female to earn Georgia All-State football honors. Soon after, she became the first women to sign a national letter of intent for a football scholarship at a state school when she joined Middle Georgia Community College. 

She made 36 PATs and a field in two years there before transferring to Georgia Southern to complete her undergraduate degree. But she retained eligibility and transferred to West Alabama, where she played as a graduate student.

It was there, on Sept. 13, 2003, where she made a 27-yard field goal to go with her seventh extra point of the season. In two years as West Alabama’s placekicker, she made 13-of-19 field goal attempts with a long of 39 yards.

Butler held the college football points record among women kickers until it was broken by Brittany Ryan, a four-year kicker at Lebanon Valley College. Ryan totaled 100 points in four seasons, including three seasons as a starter (2008-2010). She made 82 PATs and six field goals in her career.

Fast forwarding to 2015, April Goss became the second women to score a point in a major college football game with an extra point for Kent State in a game against Delaware. Her name was called in the second quarter that day and her teammates mobbed her after the kick, carrying her off the field in celebration.

Antoinette Harris made her own history as the first non-specialist to receive a scholarship to play football when she did so at Central Methodist University of the NAIA from 2019-2021. That followed two years playing at East L.A. College where she played well enough at safety to earn offers from multiple four-year universities. 

Sarah Fuller was the next to make history when, in 2020, she became the first woman to score in a game between two Power Five conference teams, nailing a pair of extra points for Vanderbilt against Tennessee. 

A goalie for the Commodores’ women’s soccer team, she had helped her squad win the SEC Soccer Tournament the week prior to joining Vandy’s football team, providing kicking depth while some specialists were out with Covid. 

Fuller made her football debut against Missouri on Nov. 28, 2020, kicking off against the Tigers to open the second half. Two weeks later, she recorded her pair of PATs against the Volunteers.

Many more “firsts” continue to make news in college football.

On Sept. 23 of 2023, Haley Van Voorhis of Division III Shenandoah University became the first woman to play in an NCAA game as a non-kicker, appearing as a safety. A junior, she registered a quarterback hurry in the game against Juniata.

Also in 2023, Leilani Armenta was added as a kicker for Jackson State University and became the first woman (as well as first Mexican-American woman) to score at Historically Black College and NCAA Division I University.  She debuted with a kickoff late in Jackson State’s win over Bethune-Cookman. Five weeks later, she made three extra points at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Armenta, who made 98 PATs and five field goals in high school, later announced she would step away from soccer to compete full-time at kicker.

Later in 2023, another wall came down, or tackled down.

Lily Godwin became the first woman to make an unassisted tackle in an NCAA football game. Playing for Division III Puget Sound as a sophomore linebacker, Godwin, who played linebacker and running back in high school, made a solo tackle on Oct. 21 against Linfield.

Time will tell who’s next!