Byron Perkins is approaching his senior season on the Hampton University football team with a purpose, not just as a football player looking ahead to the next chapter of his life, but as a gay man.

The 6-foot-3 defensive back graduated in May, and now he’s all-in and full-time focused on shutting down receivers and again showing that gay men can ball.

Perkins’ story — the first publicly out gay football player at an HBCU — has gotten lots of deserved attention, from ESPN, CBS, NBC and others. He was named Outsports’ Male Hero of the Year for 2022.

Yet Perkins is now focused on football. Hampton kicks off its 11-game 2023 football season in the Brick City Classic in Newark, N.J., against Grambling State on Saturday, and Perkins is hoping to make an immediate impact. The game starts at 3 p.m. EDT and will be aired on the NFL Network.

Last season was a down year for the Pirates. After winning their first three games, they went 1-7 and finished with a losing record. Perkins had an interception and three passes broken up — leading the team in that category — and is looking in 2023 to build on those numbers and the team’s success.

His Instagram feed is full of confidence, an essential trait for a successful football player and a mark of so many great defensive backs.

“Keeping calm with the world in my palm,” he shared in one post.

Please don’t underestimate me,” he says in another.

If that confidence translates to big plays and numbers in 2023, more questions will swirl about Perkins’ pro football chances. Much has been discussed about the lack of HBCU players selected in this year’s NFL Draft — only one. And only five have been selected in the last three years.

Yet the NFL Draft isn’t the only path to pro football. According to FanNation, there were 16 HBCU players in the NFL last year. Plus there is the CFL as well as pro football in Europe.

If Perkins is able to put on a show and impress some scouts, he could get a look at a pro football future. It would be another trail blazed by an impressive young man.

For now, Perkins is focused on Grambling State. We’ll all be cheering for him.

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