Shelby Osborne is College Football’s First Female Defensive Back

College football teams are one of those arenas where, outside of feel-good rom-coms, women are rarely included. Until now.

Shelby Osborne, a senior at Jeffersonville High School in Lafayette, Indiana, signed to Campbellsville University’s football program last week, making her the first female defensive back in the history of college football.

She’s not the first female player in college football, but when women are included on teams, they generally play kicker or holder. Osborne’s position is unique, and a real step forward for females playing the game. Most of the obstacles that women face being in the game have to do with size, not athleticism. But Osborne’s coach isn’t worried about her holding her own against a squadron of muscle-bound dudes.

“Being a defense back, it’s kind of like Deion Sanders,” her coach, Lonnie Oldham, told USA Today. “You can choose to hit or not hit. She’s got to make business decisions.”

Osborne played cornerback at her high school. She said that her teammates “didn’t believe me when I said ‘I’m going to do it.’ Then I showed up to practice each day and they’d be like, ‘She’s going to quit tomorrow.’ As the season went on, they started realizing I’m not going anywhere.”

“That’s when I earned their respect,” Osborne said. “And they started seeing me more as a teammate than another girl in class.”

“I’d wake up for 4 a.m. runs and stay at school until 8 p.m. working with the coaches,” she said. “I worked throughout the whole year, fell in love with the game, and didn’t want to give it up. When the season ended, I was desperate to find anyone who would take me and continue on the thing that captured my heart.”

Osborne was determined to find a college team to join her, despite facing rejection from schools she applied to across the country.

Finally, at an open recruitment at Campbellsville in Kentucky, she convinced coach Perry Thomsa to give her a shot.

When Osborne’s signing became national news, she said that it was inspiring to see other girls reaching out to her for tips on how to play football in male-dominated leagues.

“At first it was for me,” she said. “It was something I wanted to do, and I went out and achieved it. But now I have girls coming to me asking for help. It doesn’t just apply to football—just anything they don’t see as a possibility because there are certain professions viewed as male professions that they could go into that they might not have thought about.”

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