A lot of guys in seventh grade played football for my middle school in Colorado Springs and I didn’t. Despite being told I would enjoy it if I tried and even be good, I couldn’t get over this one thought: Guys like me don’t play football. I was too emotional and different.

For a long time, I felt different from other guys my age. When I went into high school as a freshman, I did what I thought guys like me should do — join choir and do theater productions. I tied a lot of my identity into being a choir kid.

In the winter, I went to my theater audition and it was garbage. I was underprepared and I cracked under pressure. I thought I could salvage a role in the theater group and signed up to be on crew. I got rejected. In the spring, I skipped trying out for track and auditioned for cast and crew but had the same result: hard-hitting rejection.

As a sophomore at Liberty High School I summoned all my courage and to the surprise of everyone, said I wanted to play football. It wasn’t an easy call. In addition to trying to prove to my parents I was doing something I wanted, I had to prove it to myself.

I asked the head coach if I could quit and get a refund so that I would not be wasting my mom’s money and my coaches’ time. Coach G and the assistants sat with me and asked that I give it some more time. They reminded me that it was my first year of playing and I was starting football four years later than most people.

Flash forward to fall 2020. We were playing what would be our final game of the season due to Covid rules. We were losing and it was the last play of the game. I was a backup running back and I hadn’t had a carry all year, playing only on special teams. My coaches knew I hadn’t played much and they sent me in to get a carry.

It became the most defining moment of my career. I was finally going to run the ball and my one job was not to fumble.

Marc Small, right, with a Liberty High teammate.

In a sports movie this is the part where time would slow, my crush would scream my name from the stands and I would magically dodge the hits from the other guys and make it to the end zone scoring a touchdown.

Instead, I got hit hard and fumbled.

My teammates had to help me up because I was crying so much that I couldn’t stand. Coach A, the offensive coach, walked over to me and I thought he’d be angry that after all the practice I had still screwed up. I apologized for fumbling and crying. He told me he wasn’t worried about that. He was worried about my health since I had just been hit by a truck of a player who caused the fumble.

I am bisexual and was out to a few players. One of them came up to me on the field and gave me a hug, saying it was OK. He knew how hard I am on myself. One of the seniors who was the first-string running back gave me a hug and told me that mistakes happen and it was OK.

Marc Small with his football coach after winning Most Inspirational Player.

Our team banquet was delayed until this March. To my surprise, I got the award of “Most Inspirational Player.” One reason for the award was the fumble and how everyone rallied around me. The other was when I left a weightlifting session early and came back in my choir tux needing help from teammates with my tie to head to a performance.

To my coaches, being in the choir and also playing football was pushing the expectation of what a high school athlete could be. Being able to juggle being in choir, sports and getting relatively high grades were things that got me noticed (AP Latin isn’t easy). My coach said they needed more people like me on the team.

I since have joined the track team and live more authenticity. I accept that it’s OK to be both in the choir and play football. I bought and love wearing my Denver Broncos Pride shirt and am thankful for the acceptance I am getting.

I have never officially came out to my coaches, but I imagine some have put two and two together. The closest I ever got was when one coach said he wouldn’t treat us differently if we liked dudes, during a conversation a few of us were having about relationships. I wanted to come out then but decided against it. I hope to use this article to officially come out to them as I’m better at writing than I am talking.

This month I was excited when the NFL posted this on their Instagram account for Pride Month:

I was so happy to see it, I posted the picture to my Instagram story as another way to come out. It meant a lot that the NFL had been taking more steps to being inclusive.

As I was finishing writing this on Monday, I saw that Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders came out as gay. His coming out is powerful because he is the first active player to be out. If I could I would shake his hand and give him a hug because seeing his coming out post made me feel less alone. The support and positivity made me emotional and it made me less nervous about coming out via this article. I hope that him coming out changes how athletes come out and makes it easier.

Here is something I posted to my story that allowed me to come out to one of my camp friends on Monday:

Football is a mentally and physically taxing sport. I often find myself pushing my own limits. I spend a lot of time with teammates and hiding part of who I am was very taxing. Because of football, I gained the confidence to finally sit down and reflect with myself and come to terms with who I was.

My advice for any player who isn’t quite sure of who they are, especially young ones: It’s OK to be confused and feel out of place. Just keep your head up and live authentically. The world needs someone like you.

Marc Small, 17, will graduate high school in the spring of 2022. He is in the highest choir class at his school as well as in AP Latin. He is a member of the football and track teams and also in the choir. He hopes to major in sports physiology and/or creative writing and pursue a career in coaching. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or Instagram(@marc_hsmall).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

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

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If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.