SALEM, Ore. — Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman place kicker at Division III Willamette University, announced that he is bisexual.
He is the first college football player in the United States at any level to come out publicly while still playing, according to Outsports.com.
Mertens said Tuesday that he wanted to help dispel stereotypes and stigmas associated with bisexual athletes.
"It got to a point where I just got tired of it, trying to hide who I was and trying to pretend I was something I was not," he said.
Mertens, 19, announced his sexual orientation to his teammates during a meeting on Monday. A story about him appeared on Outsports.com on Tuesday.
Coach Glen Fowles said the players were overwhelmingly supportive of his decision.
"It's been great to see the way our guys have rallied around," Fowles said. "For our guys, Conner is just a kicker."
"It wasn't a big deal and we were glad he felt comfortable to tell us," Jack Nelson, team captain and junior inside linebacker, said.
Willamette issued a statement supporting Mertens' decision, saying the university "respects his contribution to a more humane and just world."
"He says, 'Coach, I'm really going to utilize this open door policy,'" Fowles, recalling how Mertens first approached him, said.
Mertens said he was humbled by the response.
"It sounds corny, but I legitimately feel there's a weight off my shoulders. It's tiring to pretend your something else for 24-7, for 18 or 19 years of your life," he said. "So finally to be able to joke about it, to be honest about it, not have to put on this mask, I'm finally able to take a deep breath."
The Bearcats play in the Northwest Conference. The team went 8-2 overall last season and finished third in the league at 4-2.
Mertens did not play his freshman season because of a left knee injury. He will compete with two other kickers on the Bearcats' roster for next season's starting position.