College football's first female defensive back says: 'Never play scared'

by Marisa Kabas /  / Updated 
Coach Perry Thomas, Shelby Osborne
Courtesy of Shelby Osborne

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Shelby Osborne
Today

Shelby Osborne is a high schooler with a big dream that just came true: She has been tapped as the first-ever female defensive back in college football history.

The Lafayette, Indiana, girl has played just about every sport there is, but she found that football is her real passion.

"It has to do with the camaraderie and the atmosphere," Shelby told TODAY.com via email. "The fact that the team actually has each other’s back. No other sport I’ve been in has done that, and I’ve played them all. The fact that 11 people pieced together, no matter what they come from or are going through in their private lives, can make magic happen on the field right before your eyes. The thrill of competition is like no other sport."

Shelby joined the Jefferson High School football team in 2012, and over the next couple of seasons she was on the field in five varsity games. Female players on male football teams are still rare, but they aren't as anomalous as they once were. However, most have been kickers, whereas Shelby is a defensive back.

Shelby Osborne
Shelby on the field.Today

Now Shelby is making history by becoming college football's first female defensive back after being drafted by Campbellsville University in Kentucky. She approached head coach Perry Thomas at a recruiting session and he snatched up the 5-foot-6, 140-pound cornerback for his 2014 squad. 

"We invite all players interested in playing football at Campbellsville to join us at to our spring game," Thomas told TODAY.com in an email. "Shelby filled out a recruit questionnaire, came to the game and enjoyed the atmosphere. We bring in several players each year, and Shelby is no different than any of our incoming freshmen, in our eyes." 

When Shelby learned her passion and hard work were finally paying off, she almost couldn't believe it. “The day I signed my letter of intent, I went out to my truck and sat there for at least a half hour listening to music, bawling my eyes out, and praying that it was real," she said. "I’m not usually an emotional person. Every day I wake up and still ask if it’s a dream."

Thomas says that when Shelby arrives on campus, she'll be treated just like the guys. "She will do everything the team does as far as conditioning and practice," he said. "Where she goes from there will depend on her performance, the same as any other player in our junior varsity or varsity program."

Shelby Osborne
It took Shelby a while to earn the respect of her male teammates.Today

In high school it took Shelby quite a while to earn the respect of her male teammates, but her new coach feels confident that his players will accept her as one of their own. "Being a man of character is important in our program and at our institution," Thomas said. "Our guys respect their teammates."

But no matter how much Thomas insists that Shelby is just another name on the roster, there's no denying the expectations and pressure, from herself as well as others.

"Never say you can’t. Never say girl, female or woman. No excuses, show up on time, say 'yes sir,' 'no sir.' You have to be the model athlete, work harder than the guys and never back down," she said.

"But the best advice I can give is, if you’re going to play scared, step off the field, because those moments are the moments you will get hurt. You can never, ever play scared."

She plans on majoring in sports medicine and athletic training so that no matter what happens on the field, football will always be part of her life.

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