Why Can’t Marist Produce the Next Sarah Fuller?

This article is the first in a series of stories by Marist alumni. First up is Jess King ’20. As part of “Alumni Week” she examines the chances of Marist Football adding a woman to the roster.

If she can kick a ball, why not let her play football?

Ever since November 28th, this question has been taken into consideration across college football. If you’ve been living under a rock, or simply banished cable from your life, on that date in 2020, the first female took to the field in a Power Five conference football game. Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer starting goalkeeper Sarah Fuller kicked it off for the Commodores against Missouri and went on to successfully kick an extra point later in the season. Let’s throw a couple more names out there.

Katie Hnida kicked two extra points for New Mexico in 2003. 

April Goss kicked an extra point for Kent State when they played Delaware State in 2015. 

And that’s just FBS. 

To continue, Liz Heaton for Williamette, Ashley Martin for Jacksonville State, Tonya Butler for West Alabama, and Lebanon Valley’s Brittany Ryan. All have kicked in college football games stretching from NAIA to FCS. 

This begs another question, why can’t the Marist Red Foxes join the shortlist of colleges leading this new wave of inclusivity for capable women that could thrive on special teams? Here’s why they can. 

It does little-to-no harm to roster a woman from the soccer program at Marist onto the football team. Though the Red Foxes are considered an FCS school, which usually limits its roster due to a 65-player scholarship restriction, the Foxes don’t have that same restriction. As members of the Pioneer Football League (PFL), they surprisingly don’t offer scholarships to football players even though they are division I and FCS.

Allowing a woman to play on the football team seems like a matter close to home for them. The small Hudson Valley campus has a population of 58 percent women to 42 percent men, according to the official college website. So with a strong representation of women, it seems as though the college community would come out to support a some-what struggling football program that supports women in sports.

The college has many things going for it. Notable alumni such as Rik Smits, Ian O’Connor, Jason Myers, Kevin McCarthy, and Ed Lowe have graced the Marist campus over the years. While one of those names, Myers, is a professional football kicker for the Seattle Seahawks, Marist was never really acclaimed for its success in college football. In reality, the Red Foxes haven’t seen a successful season in quite some time. The last triumphant season the Foxes had was in 2013 – finishing second in the PFL. This season, however, came with a few asterisks. Both Jacksonville University and San Diego vacated that season due to violating PFL rules. So while the Red Foxes aren’t necessarily experiencing the same pain as the Commodores from being 0-9 this season, they also shouldn’t seem above turning to the women’s soccer team for some extra help, on and off the field.

Statistically speaking, out of the 11 games the Red Foxes played last season, they went 11-14 on field goals, compared to their opponents going 6-12. They averaged 34.85 punt yards per game while their opponents went for 36.95 punt yards per game. While Vanderbilt didn’t have a great season this year, in 2019 their record was 3-9 overall. They went 10-12 on field goals as well averaged 42.18 punt yards per game. So yes, the Commodores brought Fuller onto the roster for COVID-related reasons, but anyone can see it’s beneficial for them. 

There are some candidates for a potential roster addition for the Foxes. Abigail Renaud, the senior goalkeeper for Marist women’s soccer. While we’d have to see her kick a ball far enough to punt, she’s a highly decorated goalkeeper. In 2018, her sophomore year, she appeared in 13 games and started in 12 of them. She ended that year with 40 saves for a save percentage of .800. She recorded a career high of six saves twice that season. In her junior year, she started in seven games and ended the year with a save percentage of .721. The concern here is height, a difference between Fuller and Renaud. Fuller ranks at 6’2″ while Renaud is only 5’8’’. Regardless, the Red Foxes have five kickers on their roster, with two also listed as punters. One is a walk-on who has seen no playing time, another is a freshman, and the only one with memorable stats – Luke Paladino a redshirt sophomore who went 11-for-14 on field goal attempts and 28-for-29 on PATs totaling 61 points.

So while Abigail Renaud, or any other female who can kick a ball, might not make a direct impact on the winning percentage of the team this season, or even the next, the list of reasons why this system could work for the Red Foxes goes on. Yes, they have room for her on the roster. Yes, the representation of women on campus is strong and it would be a great way for them to, frankly, fill out the stands. Yes, this would be great for the team and athletics department’s public relations. 

And… Yes, let’s see more women in sports.

Edited by Dave Connelly & Jonathan Kinane

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