Byron Perkins had a strong career as a defensive back for the Hampton Pirates. | Hampton University

Byron Perkins has declared his intention to enter the 2024 NFL Draft.

The defensive back at Hampton University, who came out publicly as gay last year, told Outsports that this has been a lifelong dream for him and — thanks in part to a moment in church — he simply cannot let this opportunity pass him by.

Now he is centering his whole life, body and mind on hearing his name called at the 2024 NFL Rookie Draft in Detroit this April, and then earning a spot in an NFL training came next summer.

“The next six months of my life after the holidays are going to be nothing but rigorous training schedules,” Perkins told Outsports shortly before his public announcement. “Training upon training to make sure I can compete, and have durability, with some of the best athletes in the world. Making sure I’m in the best physical shape of my life.”

Perkins will be working with a defensive backs coach, a trainer and strength coach, in addition to other mentors to get him into top physical fitness.

“I’m going to put my body through the worst hell it’s ever felt, and it’s going to be fun,” Perkins said. “I love pushing my body. I have to do what others aren’t willing to do.”

Perkins is also centering his emotional and mental

“I’m also prioritizing my mental health,” he told Outsports, “in regards to church, in regards to therapy, to make sure my mental health is in good shape.”

His Christian faith is extremely important to Perkins. In fact, it was a moment recently at church that helped him make the choice to commit his full self to a shot at the NFL.

“Especially now more than ever. I was at a fork in a road in regards to what I wanted to do. I had one of these epiphanies at church when I went to one of the nurturing sessions, and it was truly beautiful. I needed it.”

Perkins joined the Hampton Pirates in 2021 after two seasons at Purdue. In 2023, he recored an interception, two PBUs and 16 tackles.

So what are Perkins’ chances in the Draft? It has been difficult for HBCU players to be selected in the Draft, with only five selected over the last two drafts. Perkins did make the NFL Draft Diamonds’ “Small school prospect watch list” for 2024 — one of six Hampton players listed — so he’s at least on the radar of some people in and around the sport.

Yet more important than whether or not he’s drafted by an NFL team is whether he’s able to get into a training camp next summer. Many undrafted players are signed by teams after the draft. It will be up to Perkins through his hard work, as well as his agent, Eugene Lee, creating interest and an opportunity for Perkins.

Some will wonder whether Perkins being an out gay man will have an effect. There have previously been two publicly out gay men who entered the NFL Draft: Michael Sam was selected out of Missouri in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft; Scott Frantz went undrafted out of Kansas State in a pandemic-plagued 2020.

It’s hard to believe Perkins — a devout Christian who has been out on an HBCU team for two seasons — will face virtually any headwinds from NFL teams for being gay.

Plus, Perkins will interview well with teams. He’s got a head on his shoulders and solid personal character. He’s a good guy, and that will show through when he’s given the opportunity to talk with coaches and staff at NFL teams.

Still, Perkins isn’t taking anything for granted, instead focusing on the work he has ahead of him and his childhood dream.

“It is such a privilege to compete,” he said. “Whatever team I have the privilege to pick up their helmet, it’s going to be surreal. To just be able to touch an NFL practice field, that is a privilege, a privilege that doesn’t come to many.

“You can’t be mediocre. I’m challenging myself to be elite every single day.”