Neal: Sarah Fuller reflects on the difficulties of her sudden burst of football fame

·4 min read

La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

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Sarah Fuller should have been allowed to bask in the spotlight. She had been pulled from the women's soccer team at Vanderbilt in November 2020 to kick for the Commodores football team.

That's football, as in the sport with the ball with the pointed ends.

Fuller handled kickoffs and nailed two extra points, becoming the first woman to play in and score in a Power Five football game. Vanderbilt, which has no men's soccer team, turned to her after the Commodores' kicking squad was sidelined by coronavirus matters. The groundbreaking moment wasn't without pressure, because no one would forget if she failed.

Instead, Fuller, 23, ended up in a mental health crisis. She was told to stay in her place on social media. Her parents in Texas received hate mail.

"I got a death threat and stuff like that," Fuller said. "It was just crazy, but you know I wanted to take like the positive out of it."

Fuller doesn't regret taking advantage of the opportunity, no matter how rocky things got. On Wednesday, she spoke to about 300 athletes, parents and coaches at the Star Tribune's fifth annual All-Metro Sports Awards at Allianz Field. Her message: Talk to someone about how you are dealing with the challenges presented to you. Even if things are going well, talk about how and why that is.

She regularly saw a sports psychologist at school, so she had support as she dealt with unexpected resistance to her breakthrough performance. She also reached out to others for support, and the inner circle of confidants helped her ride out the storm. She transferred to North Texas, where she is completing work toward a master's degree in sports entertainment management.

"It's definitely really important to keep those lines of conversation open," she said. "If it's not a counselor, it's close friends and family members and people like that."

Fuller also took a break from soccer but ended that break to play for the Aurora, a first-year team in the preprofessional USL W League. The fun of playing returned, as the team quickly became a close-knit and fun-loving group — it had about 30 goal celebrations drawn up — as it rolled to the championship game before its first loss. Fuller said during Wednesday's appearance that she's interested in returning to the Aurora next season.

For now, she's going to focus on her master's. She also announced that she will forgo her final year of eligibility at North Texas as she presses toward a post-playing career.

"I feel like I have a lot of responsibility to represent women in sports and continue to drive it forward," Fuller said. "And so, I'm thankful to now have this platform."

Twins and trades

We will learn by Tuesday's trade deadline how (or if) the Twins addressed their acute pitching needs as they pursue an AL Central title.

If they add anything less than one starter and two relievers, it will be disappointing.

The Twins need a starter because of lingering injuries to Bailey Ober and Josh Winder and because Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer have struggled.

As for relief help, it became obvious Tuesday what Twins manager Rocco Baldelli wants as the Brewers utilized relievers Devin Williams and Josh Hader to lock down the final innings in a 7-6 victory. The Twins bullpen suffered its 20th loss of the season.

"They bank on winning games like that," Baldelli said. "We need to do the same. We need to win games like that, too. I'd like to make it our calling card as well."

That sounded to me like a request to the front office for help.

Big Ten grows and learns

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren made it crystal clear during football media days last week: In big-time college sports, you either grow or you go. And the Big Ten has chosen to grow beyond adding USC and UCLA.

"We will be innovative," he said. "We will be creative, we'll be bold, we'll be strong, we'll be powerful.''

After he made that statement, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, Florida State and Miami were mentioned in various reports as being evaluated by the Big Ten. Notre Dame has been a longtime target. What about Duke and North Carolina? As the conference nears a multi-billion television deal, one from which schools could receive $90 million to 100 million annually, Warren likely knows how much adding teams could be worth.

So why stop at 16 teams? Go for 20. How about 24? The Big Ten is taking over college sports, and we are all witnesses.


Twins: It'll be tight

The Blue Jays, Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers and Giants are all on the Twins' schedule in August, which will be a tester. Look for the Twins to go 14-14 in August and fight for the playoffs in September.

Lynx: They'll fall short

The Lynx will finish 4-2 over their final six games of the regular season but will fall just short of reaching the postseason. Losing four of five in July hurt their chances.