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Missouri All-American Michael Sam says he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.

In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports, Sam says he came out to his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.

Sam says: "I am an openly, proud gay man."

The 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19), and he is projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick.

He says: "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."

"When I heard the news, I thought it was absolutely amazing," former Jacksonville Jaguar Esera Tuaolo told FCN's David Williams by phone Monday. Tuaolo came out in 2002 after his retirement, "It's another role model for our younger generation to look up to, which is absolutely awesome. That's a great thing. I'm very excited about this."

Gene Frenette, sports columnist for the Florida Times-Union, said "It's possible that his stock could drop a little bit. I would be a little bit surprised if he wasn't drafted at all."

Frenette went on to explain "He's rated as a third round to fifth-sixth round draft pick. So, if he's not drafted, to me, the message it would send is that the NFL is more homophobic than it has been letting on."

Other First Coast residents sounded off about Sam's announcement:

"I think what he does on the football field is really what matters and what counts, really," said Daniel Johnson, of Fleming Island.

"I think it's great for the sport," Eric Wheeler, of Jacksonville Beach said. "To each his own, really, in my opinion."

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