When Sarah Fuller kicked off for the Vanderbilt football team last Saturday, it meant a lot to Matt Nichols, not so much as a football player but, rather, as a father of daughters.
The Toronto Argonauts quarterback likes to see tangible examples of women blazing new trails.
Examples that he can show to his young daughters, six-year-old Elliot and three-year-old Parker.
“Anytime something like that happens,” explains Nichols, “where a strong woman breaks a barrier, and I can show my girls an image of what they can accomplish, I think that’s a huge deal.”
“I just wanna tell all the girls out there that you can do anything you set your mind to”. ?
Sarah Fuller, the first woman to play in the Power Five Conference. pic.twitter.com/MvdyJ7hu6r
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 28, 2020
Fuller, the 21-year-old star of the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, made history last Saturday, becoming the first female to play in a Power Five football game, suiting up for the Commodores in their clash with Missouri. The Power Five consists of the top conferences in NCAA football, and includes the Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, as well as Vanderbilt’s home, the Southeastern Conference. So this was, indeed, a special moment.
Nichols says that his daughters are a little young to fully comprehend the importance of Fuller’s accomplishment in the bigger picture, certainly. But the milestone will be important as they grow up and have their notions of what is possible challenged along the way.
“I think it just makes it easier as a parent to be able to show them ‘hey, this girl’s done this. And this is what they did to get there and you can do anything you want to do.’ It’s huge deal for anyone raising daughters right now.”
“I showed Elliot the videos of Sarah Fuller kicking and I talked to her about it,” says Nichols, laying the groundwork for his daughter to believe anything is possible for her. Elliot reacted in a way that kids so often do, without any pre-conceived notions, and wondering what all the fuss was about.
“In her mind it’s not that big a deal because she thinks that that’s a normal thing and that, you know, I play football and she could play football,” says Nichols. “Hopefully that mindset never changes.”
Nichols has spent a lot of his recent time running what he calls a “Daddy Daycare” at his home in Spokane, Washington, tending to Elliot and Parker, the daughters that he and wife Ali brought into this world. The daughters they hope will see every opportunity they desire open up for them as they grow into adulthood.
With his surgically-repaired shoulder healed – “I’m back to completely normal,” he says – Nichols found himself with time on his hands, what with the 2020 CFL season being cancelled completely.
With any chance of a season evaporated, and rehab fully behind him, Nichols felt he ought to give back to Ali, who’d put career aspirations on the back-burner while her husband began to pursue his pro football fortunes, in Canada, more than a decade ago.
The two graduated at the same time – Ali with a degree in Exercise Science – but she put her plans on hold as her husband’s career took root, the demanding schedule of a pro quarterback dominating the family scene. Now, she is pouring herself into the refresher courses she needs in order to gain entry into a nursing program. Ali’s workload, Nichols says, is a crusher. “She’s grinding most of the day and late into the evening.”
So Elliot and Parker have a strong female role model right at home in their mom, who would be, of course, the most important role model of all.
However, seeing girls and women doing great things on the world stage could only serve to fortify the lessons that their parents are trying to instill, and that’s how Nichols views Sarah Fuller’s accomplishments.
— CFL (@CFL) November 28, 2020
“It makes it much easier to say ‘you can do whatever you want’ when you have people like Sarah doing what she’s doing,” says Nichols, who is hoping to see more of Fuller this season. He’d like her do get the chance to do more for Vanderbilt, but that would first mean that the 0-8 Commodores would need their offence to perform much better than it did during their 41-nothing loss against Missouri.
“I’m hoping that their offence can get into some type of field goal range,” says Nichols. “It would be pretty cool (for her) to actually attempt a field goal or an extra point.”
Nichols has seen both the good and the bad when it comes to views on Fuller’s breakthrough. He gets why people celebrate it. He cringes over the brutal, misogynistic garbage that we’ve all seen on social media platforms. Frankly, he just doesn’t get that.
“How you don’t see this as just an incredible accomplishment, that’s kind of beyond me,” he says, quickly dismissing the negativity and pivoting back to the admiration he has for Sarah Fuller.
“She deserves a lot of respect for, number one, being able to physically do it and, number two, being able to mentally handle all the things that come with that.”
“And she’s done it gracefully,” he adds. “I’m super-proud of her and super-proud of Vanderbilt. It’s incredible.”
The message for his daughters goes far beyond that of them being able to play football with the boys,” says Nichols, who has also been telling his daughters about Kamala Harris, the first woman to be elected vice-president of the United States.
“It’s not something where I have a desire for my girls to play football or anything,” he explains. “It’s more like, ‘you can literally do anything you want.’ That’s the main thing for me. It’s not the fact that I want my daughters to (necessarily) play football. But if they had a strong passion for it and wanted to, I’d like to not have to say, ‘Well, you could never do that.’”
Sarah Fuller’s kick in a top-flight NCAA football game might well loom larger and larger for Elliot and Parker as they grow up and realize the significance of it. What seems certain is that their daddy, for one, is thankful to have it as an object lesson to offer.
“It’s something that means a lot, I think, to any parent that is raising daughters and wants to be able to tell them they can accomplish anything,” Nichols says.
NICHOLS’ DADDY DAYCARE A TEST FOR A QUATERBACK’S STAMINA
Matt Nichols puts in a full day in looking after his daughters Elliot and Parker, and you wonder if it might not actually be a lot more demanding than the average work day for a quarterback.
After he wakes – usually it’s Parker to get him up, Nichols says – it’s time to make breakfast and a lunch for Elliot, then it’s off to school for the 6-year-old.
He home schools Parker – “we try and get some work in with letters and numbers,” he says, adding that she is “very close to being able to write her whole name” – and tries to fit in a workout if he can. “If Parker’s not being too needy,” he laughs.
After bringing Elliot back from school, “they both have a little bit of quiet time, which probably is more for me than for them.”
He makes dinner, supervises bath time, and takes part in the odd dance party with the girls, along with some bedtime reading.
“I love doing it all,” says Nichols, who has found some time to occasionally tutor young quarterbacks in the area, though at the present time he does not have any female students.
“Not right now, but I have done multiple camps and I used to do a camp every year in Winnipeg. And I had a few girls come out for those things.”
You get the feeling that this father of young daughters would be happy to see more.
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