"I understand how big this is," Sam said. "It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be . . . I want to be a football player in the NFL."
He should get that chance based on his credentials. Sam was the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 after compiling 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss -- both tops in the conference. He was named a first-team All-American, and he helped the Tigers to a 12-2 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl.
Sam came out to his teammates over the summer, he said. He praised them for their acceptance both inside and outside of the Mizzou locker room. At the end of the season, they named him the team's most valuable player.
“Some people actually just couldn’t believe I was actually gay,” Sam said. “But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches were worried, but there was never an issue.”
At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Sam is relatively undersized as far as NFL defensive ends are concerned. He may have the ability to be moved to outside linebacker, but he struggled with the positional change two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl.
Sam has drawn comparisons to NFL veteran edge player Elvis Dumervil (5-11, 260 pounds), and Sam's measurements are actually very similar to those of New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
Many draft projections place Sam as a mid-to-late-round pick. Since Sam came out, however, reports have quoted anonymous NFL front-office sources saying that Sam's sexual orientation will likely have a negative impact on his draft stock.
One NFL player personnel assistant told Sports Illustrated that NFL locker rooms aren't "ready" to welcome an openly gay player. A former NFL general manager said that the wave of media attention that would come along with employing Sam would discourage teams from drafting him.
Now that Sam's story is out there, he said he is focused on proving to teams that he's worthy of a draft pick. That process continues in 10 days at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
“I’m not naïve,” Sam said. “I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the N.F.L.”