TEAM USA - Toni Fuller, Austin Yellow Jackets of the IWFL

Team USA – Toni Fuller, Austin Yellow Jackets (IWFL)

RB Toni Fuller
Nickname: Tick
Contact for Media Inquiry

Years Playing: 14
Ht: 5’3, Wt: 135lbs
Age: 35
Date Born: 12/9/1981
Location Born: Dallas, TX
College: Vanderbilt University
High School: Frederick Douglass HS (Atlanta, GA)
Favorite Sports Teams:  Women’s Tackle Football and Track & Field
Full-Time Profession:  High School Counselor (10 years)
Hobbies:  “Advancing the game” of women’s tackle football; loving my 3 pets – Diamond, Jacques, and Love
Passions:  Did I mention “advancing the game” of women’s tackle football… I am the self-proclaimed Ambassador of Women’s Tackle Football and aim to keep my football family “in the know” all things female football related.
College Sports:  Division 1, Vanderbilt University, I was a sprinter on the Varsity Track and Field team; Also the Running back for club Flag Football team
How you got into football:  While at Vanderbilt, I found myself lacking the ability to handle the dual responsibilities of being a collegiate athlete and scholar.  I began playing flag football on a club team while at Vanderbilt and grew a huge love for it as my outlet from my own mind at times.
Pets: Diamond (rednose Pitbull terrier), Jacques (white terrier mix), and Love (my Dachshund)
Family (kids, stepkids, parents, partners, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife , etc.): Father (George Fuller) , Mother (Brenda Fuller), Brother (George Fuller, Jr.), 3 Sisters (Tavara Robertson, Tiffani Davis, and Starla Stella)

In Her Own Words:
How I got into football was really a roundabout route…..

I was a “walk on” to the track team back in 1999 – a time when my life was riddled with a past of sexual abuse and “not so good” coaches.  A time when focusing on anything was tough.  I often found myself wearing a mask of happiness that really didn’t exist if I was really honest with myself.  Along the way – playing football proved to be my “breath of fresh air” and the win I needed to keep fighting and moving forward. At some point around sophomore year, I quit the track team to focus on my academic responsibilities and that’s where my love for football excelled.  Sexual abuse is a tough thing to process and I was doing it all on my own like most women who choose to fight the battle silently.  When things seemed impossible it was and has been a way for me to “escape” into my own solitude, so to speak.  It’s the one thing that I’ve proved really good at without much effort beyond “freeing myself” and having fun.  It was also the one way I could still utilize my speed and love for running.  What initially began as a physical outlet soon proved to be more for me – the “ultimate release”.  As I poured myself into this sport, I have “worked through” my own ails and healed myself. Those losses early on have transitioned into wins and I’m thankful for football and my latter reflections.  It literally found me and now I can honestly say it “saved my life”.  I now tell my story openly – I have broken the silence on sexual abuse and football has helped me build that bridge of courage within.  I dedicate majority of my time to “advancing the game” because it has “advanced my game”.  Thank you Football.

Interview transcribed below from Female Coaching Network:

“As a young girl, I grew up running summer track and playing basketball. As a teenager, I continued with track and field and added on cross country in the fall seasons.  Coaches were the cornerstone of my prowess on and off the track.  My story is a bit different from most.  Every day that I walked into my high school, I was haunted with the idea that I would be sexually abused before the day was over.  See, around the age of 14, mom and I made an escape to Atlanta, GA from Dallas, TX to flee my dad’s domestic abuse.  My mom’s family resided in Atlanta so this would be where my “new life” would emerge and when the world of sports and academia would save me!

Mom was not doing too well, losing weight by the pound, and falling into a bit of noticeable depression.  Eventually guardianship over me was given to my aunt for varying reasons including my education.  While in high school, I found myself in a rather tainted situation with, what seemed like, no way out.  The Athletic Director/Head Football and Track and Field Coach began to sexually abuse me over the summer going into my 10th grade year.  I never spoke about this with anyone for fear of being castigated by those around me.  I held this secret until I was 22 years old (8 total years), and for the most part, still hold this secret close to me – unshared.

If it weren’t for sports and becoming an “ultra nerd” while in high school, I probably wouldn’t be living to share this story.  High school was tough – one big secret and one really long blink.  Books, learning, and running became my “saving graces”.  When I walked in the metal doors of the school, I put on my imaginary “thinking cap” and wore it until I left the school building and presumed my safety.  Every book that I read, every topic I explored – became the “great escape” I needed. Before long, I was considered a well-versed and scholarly athlete.  I focused intensely on the words I read in books; became a master of “staying in the present” – eliminating racing and fearful thoughts from my psyche.   I learned the importance of “healthy outlets” and how having them could save your life.  Running track kept me busy – from others, as well as, myself during my high school years.

Coaches played a pivotal role in my existence. Rather bad or good, I learned something from all of them.  With the AD in high school, although not back then, latter reflections taught me to “end the silence” on this topic – to speak up and speak out about sexual abuse.  My aim now, working as a school counselor, is to help youth in similar situations experience freedom and autonomy; to break the shackles of domestic and sexual abuse against them.

Sometime after sophomore year at Vanderbilt University, I made a choice to walk away from running collegiate track to focus more on my academics.  From there, I began playing flag football for a club team called the WNFL and we were really good!  This is where I would learn the game of football and grow a strong passion for it.  With the WNFL, I utilized my speed at the running back position and learned to use the concepts from football that I was learning and began applying them to my personal mental health.  Juking on the field became juking off the field.  I learned how to maneuver the world around me as if I was a running back and the world was the defense I was up against.  My mental health became a game of sorts.  In order to feel better about the plight dealt to me, I made light of it. Football became my self-help, figuratively and literally – I tackled life.

Four years would become five and eventually I would complete Vanderbilt with both my Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees, respectively.  Making my academics my primary focus behooved me greatly!  Still bound to silence about the sexual abuse I’d lived through, something special occurred at 22 years old.  I found out my father was having a baby out of wedlock and life, as I knew it, began to pour out at the seams.  I would finally begin to tell pieces of my story (at least to my immediate family) – I was full and it flowed like the river.

I “journeyed” for 6 years, working odd end jobs; not utilizing my Master’s degree much with the jobs I opted to take during that period.  From throwing luggage on airplanes to setting people up with cable service, I journeyed.  During this time, I stumbled upon the Atlanta Xplosion women’s football team where I’d transition from the world of flag football to the world of full contact tackle football.  This gave me life!  From running back in flag football to weak side linebacker for the Xplosion, I’d learn the game in and out and it would change my life forever.  I met a group of people who genuinely cared about my well-being; no manipulation – just a good feeling of “family”.  Coach Phil Beniamino, the head coach of the Atlanta Xplosion, was the first coach to hold me accountable, push me to be better, and take care of me unconditionally (on and off the field).  With the Xplosion, I’d go on to experience two championship seasons and successfully earn a championship title in 2006.

Still applying concepts, I learned on the field to the world around me (off the field) – life and my past would still rear their heads.  I remained silent, nonetheless, and fought my battles privately. Using football as a physical and emotional outlet from the torment I was experiencing inside of me.  It wasn’t until 2008 that I packed up two suitcases and headed west to the Nevada horizons to take up a school counseling job.  There I would “get serious” about life, learn myself, and the Universe.  Nestled 2 hours South of Reno and 5 hours north of Las Vegas, lies Hawthorne, NV hidden away in the mountain valley of Nevada.  Back then, there wasn’t a female football team nearby so for a year I went without the playing.  The second year there, I would rejoin my Atlanta Xplosion family and meet them to compete in away games – my outlet was back.

In 2010, I moved to Austin, Texas and began playing for the Austin Outlaws women’s football team.   Football took off for me around this time.  I had emerged from a one-dimensional football player to a multi-dimensional football player playing several positions every season.  Head coach, Narlen Baker, saw something in me and believed that I had what it took to play running back and defensive back for him.  More priceless lessons would emerge because of this and the idea that he would push me to higher heights.   Just as my life on the field was becoming layered, so was my life off the field.  From school counselor to mentoring and tutoring at the University of Texas – my work life flourished and my football life paralleled.  This has always been the case; they’ve worked hand in hand perfectly.

In 2013, I had the opportunity to tryout in the Team USA Women’s National Team trials where I’d meet a coach that would impact me forever – Coach Chenell “Soho” Tillman-Brooks.  As she looked on in the distance, I’d notice her, but not formally meet her during that weekend of events.  Eventually, I found myself with a video of my time at the Trials with helpful feedback included in a private facebook message.  My love for Coach started at that very moment.  I knew she didn’t know me, but she had a heart for the game and somehow a heart for me.  This relationship would probably prove to be the most important of them all.  I’m not sure if Coach Soho really understands her “magic” – in her own little way she has a knack for showing how special her leadership can be.  I can still remember the day she told me “life will change the minute you get out of your own way kiddo.” She didn’t know my story then, she didn’t know that I had really been in my own way, she didn’t know those very words would propel me to a place of true freedom within myself.  That’s something that good coaches do well, they save lives effortlessly.  She did that – she told me “no more ghosting – it’s time to live” and I have swallowed those words athletically and personally.  She started a fire in me that day; a fire that would “end the silence”.”

Nancy Javaux wrote:
Introducing Toni Fuller of the Austin Yellow Jackets Women’s Football ( IWFL – The Women’s Football League).
With a long, rich history in the game, including an IWFL championship ring in 2006 with the Atlanta Xplosion, Toni is inspired to continue to play because of the life lessons the sport teaches her. Her life as a student athlete through h.s and into college at Vanderbilt University lead her to a career as an at-risk counselor for high school students and a mentor for student-athletes at the The University of Texas at Austin. She hopes that she can make a difference directing those students to take ownership of their futures and direct them toward excellence in their choice field of study. While at Vanderbilt, Toni herself was a student athlete, participating in Track and Field as well as intramural flag football as RB. This was the spark that ignited Toni’s illustrious 14 year tackle football career thus far. She has played for both Austin teams over the last 7 years, most recently with the Yellow Jackets, filling the roster in the roles of S and LB on defense and RB, or if needed- QB, on offense. Her favorite thing through her years of playing is the sisterhood among female tackle football players. All over the globe women are competing and loving the game with the common goal of growing the sport and impacting the future generations ability to live without bounds. Toni looks forward to the WWC games and meeting more great athletes within the realm of women’s football.