Of all the "honors" Outsports will hand out this week, this was probably the toughest to select.

The "hero of the year" is meant to honor someone in sports who has gone beyond the baskets, goals and touchdowns and worked from the inside to make sports more inclusive and inspire LGBT people in sports to be themselves.

Conner Mertens has very quietly done exactly that. Since coming out to his team – and then publicly – in January, Mertens has been a magnet for young gay and bisexual athletes, someone to talk to about their feelings and situation. Mertens has worked with athletes in football, basketball, baseball and many other sports, often young high school athletes in their teens struggling to find their place in the world.

Most recently, Mertens inspired high school baseball player Alejandro Graterol to come out to the entire world.

"And I would also like to specifically thank Conner Mertens for helping me through all of this," Graterol wrote in his coming-out letter, "and for showing me that everything can stay the same after coming out. If you don't know him look him up, because he is one of the most genuine and selfless people that I have had the pleasure of coming across in my life."

In addition, Mertens helped other athletes come out to their teams and to the public, like college baseball player Chandler Whitney, college football player Mitch Eby and high school track athlete Dawson Roscoe.

The future of the LGBT sports movement is the youth, and Mertens is helping to lead the way.

For extending his influence far beyond himself, and for putting himself second to the well-being of so many others, Conner Mertens is our Male Hero of the Year.

In addition to "the work," Mertens had a strong first season as the Willamette University football team's kicker, hitting 71% of his field goal attempts and 97% of his PATs. We can't wait to see what he accomplishes in 2015!

Male Hero of the Year Runners-Up: Saunders boys basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo, who has created a series of conferences aimed at educating high school athletes, coaches and sports administrators on LGBT issues. Nicodemo has already expanded the conference to Portland and Denver and hopes to expand further in 2015. Former cornerback Wade Davis spent this year talking extensively about LGBT issues in sports with the NFL and youth and made inroads into historically black colleges.