Antoinette "Toni" Harris wants to be the first woman to play in the NFL. On Wednesday, she moved a step closer to her goal when she received a scholarship offer from Bethany College, an NAIA school in Kansas.
Harris, who plays free safety for East Los Angeles College in California, will become one of the first female non-kickers on a college football roster -- and may be the first to receive a scholarship offer. In 2014, cornerback Shelby Osborne signed with Campbellsville University in Kentucky, an NAIA school, but it's unknown if she received a scholarship.
Last April, Becca Longo, a kicker from Arizona, became the first woman to sign a letter of intent to play college football at the Division II level or higher. Longo is a freshman at Division II Adams State in Colorado, where she is playing for both the football and women's basketball teams.
Harris tweeted about the offer Wednesday night, and both she and Bethany College coach Paul Hubbard confirmed it to ESPN on Thursday.
— Toni ✨ (@_Antoinetteeeee) January 17, 2018
"It's pretty crazy," Harris said. "It's overwhelming but exciting at the same time."
NAIA schools can offer partial athletic scholarships, but athletes also can qualify for academic aid, which Harris does as an honors student at East Los Angeles College. Bethany assistant coach Tyrone Carter, who had previously coached at East Los Angeles, informed the coaching staff about Harris last week, and they decided to extend her an offer Wednesday.
"We were absolutely interested," Hubbard said. "She definitely has the skill set. We're always looking outside the box or inside the box to find players. We watched her compete against the kids out there."
"Plenty of females that have played," Hubbard said. "But [Harris] would be the first at a skill position."
The 5-foot-7, 164-pound Harris, who missed the first part of the 2017 season because of health reasons, indicated she wants to play a full season at East Los Angeles in 2018 before deciding her next step. The Detroit native began playing football when she was 6 and played for Redford Union High School in Michigan as a wide receiver and cornerback before being moved to free safety.
After one junior college coach didn't allow her to play because of her gender, she came to East Los Angeles in June.
"A lot of coaches didn't believe in me," she said. "A coach told me nobody's ever going to play you to be at the next level. In the end, you've got to push yourself. I'm going to focus on my goals."
Harris is grateful for the offer but wants to keep her options open.
"I can play at Bethany, so I can leave," she said. "But I think I would want to finish off my sophomore year. A lot of other schools are interested. The offers are going to be rolling in. My ultimate goal is to excel at a four-year [university] and become the first female NFL player. I know I can get there."