When college football recruiters first began approaching me, I knew my hard work was being noticed. I had a decent amount of recruitment offers to play football or wrestle, but it felt like most coaches were just looking at me like a piece of meat to exploit.

I didn’t feel comfortable around most coaches during recruiting because I felt they wouldn’t be accepting of my sexuality. I didn’t feel any intrinsic connections during the process until I met Mike Cody, then the offensive line coach at College of Idaho and now offensive coordinator.

He would call every week and make an effort to get to know me. I remember one day getting a handwritten letter from the coaches at the College of Idaho and feeling like I finally found a place that wanted me for who I am. I didn’t make a decision to commit early because I felt timid and I was worried that I would get discriminated against for being gay.

This fear consumed me and I couldn’t get it off my chest. Finally, I called Coach Cody on Feb. 3, 2018, and he asked me why I had not committed. I told him, “I want to go, but I don’t know if football would be a good idea for me because I am gay. I’m afraid that I’ll get harassed and hazed for who I am.”

“I’m glad that you came out to me,” he said. “I have friends who I am very close with who are gay and they are the greatest people I’ve ever met. I will make sure that if you come to play ball here that you will have protection from every coach. We do not tolerate discrimination. I will personally kick whoever treats you like that off the team.”

We discussed more and eventually, I said, “I’ll commit.” I signed the scholarship papers right after I got off the phone.

Sports have been a huge part of my life growing up in Olympia, Washington. My family strongly emphasized athletics and I’ve been doing sports since the day I could walk. My dad was very involved in the sports I played and he would coach all my Little League teams.

I was always on the move: my weekends were consumed with wrestling tournaments, football games and T-ball tournaments. I loved every moment of it and had so much fun hanging out with my family and friends while doing something active.

This busy lifestyle continued into high school and my time was filled with sports where I worked my hardest and watched it pay off. I was a 2A wrestling state champ my junior year of high school and during my sophomore and senior year, my football team went to the state championships. I really appreciate sports because it doesn’t matter if you are gay or not, it’s all about your work ethic and never giving up.

College was to prove a major transition, though Coach Cody’s support of me being gay was a big help. The next few months of my senior year flew by as my summer was filled with work and training for fall camp. I remember preparing for the move to Idaho and bought tons of supplies, packed them all up, and moved to Caldwell, Idaho.

I was concerned about the move because I would be away from my support system and not have to worry about my sexuality and well-being. When I got to fall camp, we were already doing intense workouts and preparing for the season.

In practice, I always lost in one-on-one drills and I felt like I wasn’t developed enough to start my freshman year. I figured that being a freshman I could redshirt to hide and develop my skills and get stronger. I figured if I didn’t make a big splash people would not notice me, which is what I wanted. I knew that if I put in the work and understood what was going on, I would become a better player.

Two weeks before our first league game I got pulled aside by Nate Potter, the offensive line coach, and he said, “I am going to start you at right tackle.” I was completely taken by surprise, but he continued saying, “you’re athletic and have the ability, just study up on your playbook and you’ll be OK.” After that talk, I was super excited and called my dad to tell him everything. It felt like I finally did it!

Fast forward to the first game of the season and the first game of my college career. I was petrified.

I would have to play against juniors and seniors who were all-conference and I had so much anxiety. During the first snap of the game, I completely missed my assignment and knew that I messed up. Then I started to feel my competitive nature come out and dropped all my fear. Suddenly, I had the mentality of a wild man and I was thinking, “yeah, I’m a freshman and I’m going to kick your ass.”

At this moment I remember becoming empowered. I started to believe in my abilities and knew the exactly what to do. I ended up doing fairly well in the first game. As the season carried on, my skills and confidence improved.

I started to become more confident with my sexuality and started to tell people on the team that I was gay. I came out to most of my teammates by telling them directly. Word got around and people seemed to be pretty accepting of everything I did.

A few players even texted me saying that they were there to support me. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to bring my current boyfriend the college’s Winterfest, which is a school dance that everyone attends. People seemed to be pretty relaxed and easy going about us dancing, taking pictures and having a good time. Some of my teammates and other friends were extremely excited when I brought my boyfriend.

We started out the season with five loses in a row but we got on a roll and ended up winning the last six games. At the end of the season, the team was ranked 22nd in the nation, which was a first for the College of Idaho.

I used to think I could hide among the shadows and get through life that way, but I realized this year that I could be me and still reach my goals.

Playing alongside my wonderful teammates and phenomenal coaches has thoroughly empowered me. I used to think I could hide among the shadows and get through life that way, but I realized this year that I could be me and still reach my goals.

This confidence has helped me come out to teammates and close friends at school. Playing football here started to make me think, “why not?” I started to realize the effect of my hard work and I started to think of all the things I can accomplish. Through this experience, I learned that it doesn’t matter whether you’re different, all that matters is who you are as a person.

Sexuality doesn’t matter on the football field, or in the classroom. The only thing that matters is your tenacity, effort and will to succeed.

I hope this story helps inspire other LGBT athletes to become empowered and to think “why not?” LGBT athletes shouldn’t be afraid to ball out, especially when they have invested so much time and effort into their craft.

I want LGBT athletes to dominate the courts, mats, track, the fields and to compete with 100% confidence in their abilities and to pursue greatness.

Cy Hicks, 19, an undergrad at the College of Idaho, is majoring in Political Economy and is an offensive lineman for the Yotes football team, an NAIA school. He can be reached on Twitter @cyjhicks, Instagram @cyjhicks or email ([email protected]).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected]).