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Following in the footsteps of Michael Sam, the University Of Missouri defensive end who came out of the closet following his final collegiate season, another undergraduate player has publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation at a different Midwestern school.

By Nathan James

Kyle Kurdziolek, 20, a linebacker at St. Francis University in Joliet, Ill., says he was inspired to come out by Sam’s story. “Seeing Michael Sam come out like that was just refreshing to me,” Kurdziolek recalls. “I felt comfortable that I’m not the only [gay] football player.”

Kudziolek says his coach and teammates are “very supportive” of his decision to come out, albeit in a Catholic university, whose religious teachings denounce homosexuality.

Head coach Joe Curry says there’s been no backlash against the sophomore. “No, not one bit. Not one bit. It’s been 100 percent totally positive and I think that says something about our university and our program here. We’re a welcoming university that welcomes everybody, and Kyle’s no different.”

Kyle Kurdziolek

Playing ion an athletic scholarship, Kurdziolek made 45 tackles last season, and took the field in every scheduled game. He believes he can continue as an openly gay athlete. “I can be a gay football player,” he notes, “this is the dream for me right now.”

His aptitude on the field, however, hasn’t been without bumps in the road. “I’m not really for the whole gay rights thing, but I’m working on evolving.

Mitch Eby

Mason Darrow

Chip Sarafin

Conner Mertens

I’m trying to accept it more,” says teammate Jordon Smith, citing his Catholic beliefs. Kurdziolek is currently considered the only out, active college player, and he is the fifth to come out while playing, after Mason Darrow, Mitch Eby, Conner Mertens, and Chip Sarafin. He’s the first out player to receive a scholarship.

While there are cautionary lessons in Sam’s example, as his abortive NFL career illustrated, Kurdziolek’s coaches think the path forward will be easier for their linebacker.

“You wouldn’t expect a gay player to be here, but maybe we start something that shows kids that it’s fine. You’re OK to be out and be a member of a football team,” notes graduate assistant coach Josh Mander.

Kurdziolek has two years of football eligibility remaining, but hasn’t speculated ion whether he will try for the NFL after graduation. “I’m enjoying my life right now”.

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