Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller says she plans to stay with the football team as long as it will have her, even after the other kickers on the roster clear coronavirus protocols and return to practice.
On Saturday, Fuller became the first woman to play for a Power 5 football team when she kicked off to open the second half against Missouri. A senior goalkeeper on the Vanderbilt soccer team, Fuller said Sunday during a Zoom call that playing in the game made her want to keep going.
"I would love to learn more, so if those guys come out of quarantine, I would love to learn from them and their experience," Fuller said. "I've been having a lot of fun doing this. It's a challenge for me, but it's something I know I can do. It's applicable from doing a goal kick to a field goal kick, so I want to continue learning, and if those guys can help me, I'm all for it."
Fuller said she planned to attend meetings on Sunday and added, "I'm sticking around until someone tells me to go."
In his postgame comments, Vanderbilt's Derek Mason -- who was fired as coach Sunday -- said, "If she wants to kick and she's available, we'd love to have her." Fuller also said that Vanderbilt special-teams coach Devin Fitzsimmons approached her after the game and told her, "We'd love to have you around."
Fuller was added to the team Monday after the Commodores lost their specialists due to coronavirus testing and needed a kicker. And her experience with the team Saturday went beyond handling the kickoff duties. With Vanderbilt trailing 21-0 at halftime, Fuller decided she wanted to address the team.
"If I'm going to be honest, I was a little pissed off at how quiet everybody was on the sideline," she said. "We made a first down, and I was the only one cheering and I was like -- what the heck? What's going on? And I tried to get them pumped up."
She said she compared it to Vanderbilt soccer's SEC tournament-winning run, when the team was "cheering the entire time."
"I just went in there and I said exactly what I was thinking. I was like, 'We need to be cheering each other on. This is how you win games. This is how you get better is by calling each other out for stuff, and I'm going to call you guys out. We need to be supporting one another. We need to be lifting each other up. That's what a team's about,'" Fuller said. "I think this team has struggled, and that's been part of it.
"We really just need to build that team camaraderie where they can all lean on one another. It was an adjustment going from that team mentality where -- hey, we're all here supporting one another -- and I just wanted to bring that to this team."
Afterward, Fuller said she had coaches come up to her and say, "'I've been wanting to say that for a while now.' And I had guys come up to me. I hope I gained their respect. It wasn't ill-intentioned at all. I just want this team to succeed and do well."
Fuller said she has not been able to keep up with the congratulatory texts and notifications on her phone since Saturday. She was especially blown away when LeBron James and Hope Solo tweeted about her. Yet as she scrolled through social media, she could not help but see some of the criticism aimed her way, especially those who questioned why Vanderbilt would turn to a woman to kick.
"I've been trying not to look at the comments, but it's hard not to see them sometimes when they're talking crap about you, and I'm just like, at this point, what are you doing?" she said. "I am a D-I soccer player, I go to Vanderbilt University, I am going to get my degree from here, I've done amazing things I've set out to do, and so they can talk crap all they want. This is something I believe I've earned, and I was at the right place at the right time, so yeah, I'll take on the hate."
Fuller still plans to transfer to North Texas to earn her master's degree in hospital administration and play her final two years on the women's soccer team. (North Texas football hasn't approached her about kicking.) But before she can think too far ahead, Vanderbilt is still scheduled to face No. 9 Georgia on Saturday.
Maybe Fuller will get another chance.
"I texted Fitz this morning. He had talked to me as we were getting on the plane last night, and he was like, 'Listen, you have a lot of power in your leg, and we need to learn how to maximize that power,'" Fuller said. "I asked him for film of NFL players that kick similarly to how I do because I want to get the approach right and really maximize that strength because I've got a big leg."