Shelby Osborne: College football's first female defensive back

Shelby Osborne: Football is her passion and she joins the thin ranks of women in men's college football. Most women have played as kickers. Is Shelby Osborne creating a new normal?

By , Staff writer

When Shelby Osborne walks onto the football field this fall, she'll be treading on ground few women have dared to walk.

Fewer than a dozen women have played college football on a men's team. But this week, Osborne made history when she signed a letter of intent to play football with Campbellsville University in Kentucky – as a defensive back, the same position she played in high school.

No woman has played that position in men's college football.

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Her job will be to guard against the pass, and the run. She must be fleet of foot, agile, and able to take a hit. Defensive back can be a physically demanding position. But so can combat in the US Army, where women are increasingly showing they have the physical attributes necessary to get the job done.

Most women who have played college football have done so as kickers. Shelby Osborne's parents supported her decision to play high school football, but hoped she'd try kicking in college.

Her high school coach was supportive of her playing in college but was realistic too. "You don't want to shoot anybody's dreams down but I had a conversation with Shelby and I said, 'Shelby it's going to be really tough for you to find anybody to take you,'" Lonnie Oldham told Louisville WAVE-TV Channel 3.

"My mom was the same way when she was my age," Osborne told The Courier Journal. "She wanted to work on cars, and her dad wouldn't let her. She knew I'd do anything I could to achieve my dreams."

She wrote to every college in Kentucky, as well as schools in Florida and North Carolina. But the communication stopped as soon as coaches discovered "Shelby" was a girl's name.

But she persisted. She showed up at an open recruiting day at Campbellsville and won over the coach.

She has no illusions about the challenge ahead. But she intends to build upon what she's learned about breaking gender barriers.

"You can't ever make an excuse," Osborne told WAVE-TV. "No matter how you feel, no matter how what, you have to be there on-time, do everything the coach asks you, never say because I'm a girl and never complain."

Her high school principal says with that attitude, she's challenging gender stereotypes and creating a new norm.

"To other girls I think it does say there aren't those boundaries that we always thought were there in lots of different places," "She's a football player and that just seems normal which is, maybe seems strange," said Jeffersonville High School Principal Julie Straight.

Indeed, other women are also creating that a new normal in football. In January, Jennifer Welter, who played rugby at Boston College, was signed as a running back for the Texas Revolution, an indoor men's football team. She is the first woman to play in a non-kicking position on a men's professional football team.

Osborne says that she'll have a team-oriented attitude toward playing in college. "I could care less if I ever played a down, as long as I am a part of the team ... and continue with my love and passion for football....The team before myself.... Wherever God puts me, I'm totally OK with it," she told ESPN

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