It was a simple go route by Capital University (Ohio) wide receiver Wyatt Pertuset and a bit of a busted play, but for the openly gay Pertuset, the play meant everything.
As Pertuset ran down the left side of Schueler Field in Cincinnati against Mount St. Joseph late in the first quarter of Saturday’s season opener, he noticed his quarterback Thomas Wibbeler scrambling and under pressure. So Pertuset kept running, drifted right, got behind the defense and found himself open in the end zone.
Wibbeler threw a beautiful strike from 37 yards out on the run, Pertuset snagged the ball with both hands and slid to his knees in the end zone as the referee signaled touchdown. He bent over and lifted the ball to his facemask, almost seeming to not believe he had scored his first collegiate touchdown.
“It was completely overwhelming.” said Pertuset, 20, a junior from Richwood, Ohio. “It was on a scramble and I had to get open. Next thing you know, my quarterback, Thomas Wibbeler, connected with me in the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown. All of my teammates quickly came to celebrate with me in the end zone and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
The touchdown was a long time in coming for the 6-1, 210-pound Pertuset. He missed all of the 2017 season after dislocating the Lisfranc joint in his foot. He had to have two surgeries and wondered if he would ever play football again.
“I haven’t really played the game in two years and I’ve worked so hard to get back to my normal self and a more improved self,” Pertuset said. “Scoring that touchdown really made me convinced that all the time spent on surgery, therapy and rehab has all paid off.”
There was another reason the touchdown meant so much to Pertuset — it proved an openly gay player could perform at a high level.
Petuset came out publicly on Outsports last year, but he was already out to his Capital teammates and had been out at his small high school in his last two years there. He was named homecoming king and prom king, and voted student body president as a senior. He also won numerous football awards and was All-Ohio special mention.
By scoring the touchdown Saturday, Pertuset might be the first active publicly gay college football player (someone who discussed being gay or bi in the media) to ever achieve that distinction. Of the seven out college football players this season. Pertuset is the only one who plays a skill position on offense, making him the most likely to score a touchdown.
There have been other gay college players who have scored touchdowns, but none of them were publicly out at the time. For example, running back Dave Kopay scored a touchdown in the 1964 Rose Bowl, but he did not come out until after his nine-year NFL career ended. And Dorien Bryant scored six touchdowns for Purdue from 2004-2007 as a wide receiver, though he did not come out until 2013.
“Being an openly gay player, it meant that much more to me to score that touchdown,” Pertuset said.
“I DID IT!” Pertuset texted Outsports after the game. “First touchdown in the first quarter. First to ever do it. This one is for you, guys!”
His team and family have been totally supported of Pertuset, with his mom, Stacey, tweeting last week how proud she was of her son for being among the seven out players this season. She even used the #betrue hashtag in her tweet.
Pertuset hopes the touchdown will resonate for LGBT people long after the final score (59-21, Mount St. Joseph) is forgotten.
“I want it to be one of those images in young minds, especially for the same age as me, who might be in the closet, to work hard and just play your heart out, not only for your team but for what you stand for,” Pertuset said. “I want this to be a turning point that proves to people that we are great athletes as well.”