Toni Fuller is an assistant coach at Pebblebrook High School, and the first female football coach in Cobb County School District. Cobb Sports was able to slow Coach Fuller down for a minute and ask her a few questions…
Where did you go to high school? Was the coaching staff and were the other players supportive?
I attended Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta. I ran track and field in high school and had not learned of girls playing football yet; definitely had supportive coaching staff and track family. Playing football all these years allowed me an opportunity to continue my passion for running and sprinting.
How did you get into football and how long did you play?
I was introduced to flag football while attending Vanderbilt University; began playing freshman year at running back and continued onto a 5th year while obtaining my Master’s degree from Vandy’s Peabody College. We were an intramural team playing other intramural teams at Vandy and, at times, traveled to out-of-state flag football tournaments to compete—this is where my love for the game grew into a passion. Upon graduating in 2004, I was introduced to tackle football and began my rookie season with the Atlanta Xplosion Women’s Tackle Football Team. I have a 15-year tackle football career; ending this past 2019 season to bring closure to the BIG 15 and usher in my first year of coaching running backs at Pebblebrook—best transition ever; from “player to coach.”
How is coaching different than playing?
“Speaking the game” has been adjustment for me. As a player, you spend your time perfecting the game tangibly. As a coach, preparation looks a bit different. I never knew HOW to study film as player. I’d arrive and coach would tell us all that we needed to know to improve upon our game. Being a coach, I am that expert now. I love the challenge of learning the in’s and out’s of the HUDL software. As a player, my job was to stay in optimal shape, to show and prove through my work ethic. As a coach, I learned right away worth ethic is still paramount; not aesthetically, but mentally prepared to deliver the fundamentals. I have truly become a student of the game in speaking it to others; finding effective running back drills and fundamental theory has catered to the nerd in me. I love it.
How much adversity did you encounter when you tried to play a predominately male sport?
Playing in all women’s leagues placed me among women with similar pursuits—we all want the game to grow and include us, so we set out to debut football at a premier level at every opportunity we get. Our aim is to show that we can play a male-dominated sport at a level worth watching every weekend.
What are your thoughts on Toni Harris? Have the two of you met/spoken?
I know Toni Harris. I call her my “Sis” in this women’s football world. I love the way she dreams BIG to one day play in the NFL. I love, even more, that she’s the first to obtain a college scholarship for playing—she is a pioneer. We differ, a bit, in our pursuits; she aims to play with the guys one day, whereas I come from the fundamental belief that women can play among ourselves at a premier level. All in all, we are both setting out to change the landscape of women in sports and I love it.
Who inspired you? Who gave you inspiration and encouragement to stay on track and follow your dreams?
A series of life events inspired me to “lock in” to football and my dream of playing and coaching. Initially, I began playing as a healthy outlet from a sexually abusive past. The love and “ultra focus” I grew over time from playing the game allowed me to meet some very influential people along the way. There have been several coaches that were pivotal in my success, ultimately, leading to a Team USA gold medal—I thank them all. I gain most of my inspiration from a God that keeps, protects, and guides me through this life. And my parents have always supported my “glass ceiling breaking” attempts. It truly has been a tribe surrounding me and find difficulty giving credit to just one.
What’s next for Toni Fuller?
To gain more knowledge to be a better coach and ambassador of women’s football. I plan to shadow a few veteran running back coaches to add more “tools to my football toolbox.” Internationally, collect football equipment for ladies in Morocco to begin playing tackle football on their side of the earth. Just be better everyday and work toward getting my boys offers at the next level.
Thank you to Coach Fuller and we wish you the best of success in all your future endeavors. We’re glad you’re a part of the CCSD team!