RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Shaw University kicker India Pulphus is the first woman to play football in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
She’s also the first woman to score for an HBCU team as well.
So far in 2023, this has been the year of women in college football. Shenandoah University safety Haley Van Voorhis became the first female non-kicker to play in an NCAA football game. Leilani Armenta was the first to play a game for an HBCU at the NCAA Division I level, kicking for Jackson State against Bethune-Cookman.
Meanwhile, Pulphus became the first woman to play and score a point for Shaw University, hitting an extra point against Virginia State.
“When they called my name, I just locked in because I knew I had to kick it and make it,” Pulphus said.
Make no mistake, she is a stone-cold competitor, and this isn’t her first rodeo. In high school, she was a star soccer player until one day at practice during her senior year.
“We were throwing a football around and kicking it around and thought, what if we just do it for fun,” Pulphus said.
Before she knew it, she was trading track shoes for shoulder pads at Cleveland Heights High School and holding her own. No nerves – just splitting the uprights, winning games, becoming a part of the team.
“They were all supportive, it was just a matter of if you can kick, you can be on the team,” Pulphus said. “And if you can’t, you know, just like anybody else.”
Her athleticism turned heads all over, including Microsoft, which led to Pulphus and her friend appearing in their “Be the One” Super Bowl commercial, highlighting the success of San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers, the first woman to ever coach in the Super Bowl.
“[Shaw University Director of Athletics George Knox] showed us the screenshot that Microsoft had asked about us and we were like shocked,” Pulphus said. “But I didn’t want to just jump up and scream because we were in the classroom, but I was shocked.”
Not one to be tense, watching the Super Bowl and waiting for the spot to air was nerve-racking for her.
“It comes up, the picture flashes and everyone in the room is screaming and I’m sitting there in shock,” Pulphus said. “That was one of the only times I think about this whole thing and I’m in shock, like oh my god, I’m on TV in a Super Bowl commercial.”
After graduation, Pulphus went to Shaw and played soccer for three seasons. For a time, her high school football stories were just stories, at least until fate stepped in again last summer.
“One of our kickers wasn’t eligible and I wasn’t sure if he was going to be eligible for the season,” Shaw football head coach Adrian Jones said.” So in the spring, [offensive analyst Reginald Cooper] found India and we brought her out to practice and we let her kick a couple field goals and she kicked it and I was like… this is good.”
Some view this story as one of inspiration and change, while to others it’s a testament to the power of hard work and perseverance. India not only achieved her own goals, but paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m out here because this is fun and I enjoy it,” she said. “And then to be able to be the first in the conference at this school, I didn’t come here to be a spectacle or whatever, I just came here to kick.”