The high school coach is gay.
So is the shooting guard.
So is the all-conference player who kicked the game-winner against Notre Dame.
And so is the proud defensive lineman who bludgeoned ball carriers, winning the award as the top defender in America's top college football conference last fall. His name is Michael Sam, a game-changer who is now changing a whole different game.
Homosexuality and sports. Never have these two worlds been more intertwined, more scrutinized, more united. The University of Missouri's Sam recently announced he was gay, three months before he'll probably be selected in the National Football League's draft. He would be the first out-of-the-closet athlete in America's big four professional leagues.
In the Colorado sports world, numerous athletes and coaches have been touched by Sam's courage. This is the story of three — the coach, the guard and the kicker. Each is gay, and each battled pressures from family, religion, their team and society.
The coach, the guard and the kicker are now publicly gay, each with stories to share and one common thread — unbridled pride for Sam.
"It's so important that Michael Sam came out because it sends a message to young people that it's OK to be homosexual, and it's not abnormal," said the coach, Micah Porter, who runs the cross country and track programs at Denver's D'Evelyn High School. "And while you may make up a small percentage of whatever population you're a part of, it's still OK. His coming out is a watershed moment in a way, because it has allowed young people to see a great athlete who's young, articulate, a minority, a strong person — and everything's going to be OK."
They don't even tell their parents.
They're in high school, and they're gay. Some are even athletes. They're confused. Scared. Scarred. So they tell coach Porter.
In September, Porter came out of the closet, and he's the first publicly gay coach in Colorado, according to Cyd Zeigler of outsports.com, a sports website covering gays. At D'Evelyn, there are more students than people in Porter's hometown. He was raised in a Michigan farming town, Stockbridge, which had just one blinking red light.
"Growing up, I was attracted to men, and I always sort of internalized that as something was wrong with me," said Porter, 41. "That it was unnatural or something that could be solved and fixed."
He played football in high school. Basketball, too. Ran track and even earned a scholarship to a Division II school — "I was pretty fast for a white guy," he said with a grin.
Porter came to Denver 18 years ago to teach and coach at D'Evelyn. He has overseen a combined 33 cross country and track individual state champions. But he was living a lie.
"I didn't have the courage to be authentic with myself," Porter said. "I created this all-American life. I was married, had two children, bought a house in the suburbs — things were good. But I was depressed. I knew I had these feelings, I felt guilty having the feelings. I knew I was gay, but I thought I could just live a life hiding it."
There were victims. He admits it. Facing the reality of his homosexuality meant facing reality. The life he lived would never be the same. He moved out. He went through a divorce. He shared his story publicly last fall, and soon received e-mails lathered in hate. He lost friends in the coaching community, and felt the stares and glares at a recent coaching clinic.
But Micah is now Micah. He's authentic with himself, a phrase he kept saying during a recent lunch hour in his classroom, where he teaches history and religion.
And this is where the students come to talk. In private, with a coach, with a confidant. For all the championships earned, and for all the lessons taught in, say, Eastern Civilizations class, perhaps Porter's most-lasting impact on D'Evelyn will be his mentoring. He sees himself in these students, he knows the feeling of those colliding, confusing emotions. High school, after all, is tough enough.
"But now that they had someone in the building who they knew was gay, they didn't have to feel uncomfortable around me," Porter said. "It's neat for me, because to see Michael Sam do what he did — and I can't emphasize how courageous it was, because I can't imagine the scrutiny and nervousness he felt — it's cool for me to see it at the ground level. To see it impacting kids and the quote-unquote normal, everyday American athletes.
"I try to mentor them in a way that's healthy and encourages them to be authentic with themselves. But they're still scared. You can tell they're still nervous about what their friends are going to think, what their parents are going to think. But it's been a privilege to see it have an impact."
Porter sees the landscape changing. He said that 10 years ago, there was no way he could have felt comfortable coming out.
"I really admire coach Porter for his courage to be true to himself. He is an incredible role model," said D'Evelyn senior Carter Prescott, who is on Porter's cross country and track teams. "He is always looking for ways to help people, whether it is athletes on the track, students in the classroom, and now, others going through the same struggles as he did."
Kate Fagan, former guard on the University of Colorado basketball team.
They would say, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," as if it would somehow make her feel better, as if she'd just brush off the fact they called her lifestyle a sin.
The "they" were her teammates. Not all of them. Kate Fagan felt comfortable sharing her secret with a handful of players on the University of Colorado women's basketball team. But some of her teammates were homophobic, including some of those with whom she shared an apartment, Fagan recalled. So back in 2003-04, Fagan's senior year in Boulder, she and her partner would never hang out in Fagan's living room, "so we wouldn't have to feel their judgment," Fagan said. "But I made a conscious decision one night to sit in the living room and watch a movie — it was almost like a test. If I gave my teammates an opportunity to interact with us and embrace us, maybe everything would be OK."
A teammate arrived home, walked in and saw them. Them. She looked at Fagan and then hastily looked away, walked to her room and loudly shut the door.
"That was, for me, a devastating moment," said Fagan, now an accomplished writer. "Until that moment, I could convince myself that maybe I wasn't trusting enough. But after that moment, I truly felt rejected. She came from a religious background — obviously it was personal, because this is who I am. But for her, it was more like 'Jesus isn't OK with this, the Bible isn't OK with this, I don't want this in my house.'
"There's this idea that the problem is fixed in women sports, but there actually is a lot of homophobia, closeting and fear."
It wasn't until 2010 that Fagan came completely out of the closet, and now she hopes to inspire athletes with her new book, "The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team led by Born-Again Christians."
"I used to say, 'If I could snap my fingers and not be gay, I would do that,' " said Fagan, 32. "But just in the last year or so, there's no part of me that would change who I am."
It was during her junior year when she finally revealed her sexuality to her immediate family and close friends. But this hardly was like Sam's story from a decade later. When he came out to his team before the 2013 football season, he was widely accepted. Fagan couldn't see that happening in her situation, even with a team based in the liberal bastion that is Boulder.
"The negotiation process you're going through when you're coming to terms with your sexuality is a really draining process," she said. "I had a lot of struggles that year. I couldn't play at top speed a lot of times, I wasn't eating as much, I wasn't sleeping well because my mind was constantly churning with what this would mean for my life."
Fagan admires Sam, explaining that "you have male athletes challenged with shattering stereotypes, which is really difficult, too. Stereotypes that all male athletes are masculine and manly and couldn't possibly fill the stereotype of what it means to be gay. So for me, that's always the dynamic at play for LGBT issues in sports.
"I think it's different for women's sports, because for female athletes coming out, a lot of the angst they feel is that they don't want to reinforce all of the female-athlete stereotypes — that they're strong, fast, traditionally masculine and that all female athletes are gay."
He would try to "pray away the gay."
Mike Biselli was raised in Nevada and shaped by a powerful Evangelical Christian Church.
"I prayed and prayed, because they said God would answer your prayers," he said. "Well, they were never answered."
Asked when he first knew he was gay, the current Denver resident says, "When did you first know you were straight? It's the same thing."
So he clasped onto his secret. He dated pretty girls and played football. He was all-conference in 1999. He kicked a field goal for Stanford to beat Notre Dame. He was in the closet.
Biselli moved to Denver in 2008, in part because he wanted to join a welcoming, thriving gay community. About a year later, he came out. And then, news broke that a Stanford teammate, former NFL player Kwame Harris, had done the same thing.
Did either player know the other was gay?
"No way. No way," said Biselli, now 35. "You didn't come out in those times. Sterotypes, prejudice, the misconceptions at that time. I was so fearful of losing my scholarship, because that was my dream, ever since I was a little kid. And I didn't want to risk that whatsoever. ... I wish I could be playing football today."
Into his 20s, he lived in his home state. He dated a woman for nearly two years. He fraternized with his childhood buddies. "Straight men, who are very stereotypical — big dudes, love their beer, love their women, love their trucks and shotguns. That was one of my big fears about coming out — I didn't want to lose them, I've known them since elementary school. I consider them my brothers," he said.
But his girlfriend wanted to be engaged. It was only then when it all crystallized. Knowing his life was a lie, he couldn't dedicate his life to someone. He moved to Denver and is now in a committed relationship with a man. They own a house.
And his buddies back home?
"It's been really awesome," Biselli said. "I can stress how country these guys are. But because of that direct connection with me — childhood friend, the guy who kicked the game-winner against Notre Dame, the guy they'd have beers with — nothing has changed. They understand it's still the same Mike."
Biselli often gives motivational speeches as a side gig. He wants to change the way people perceive.
"There was a phenomenal quote in the movie 'Milk,' when they were talking about how they can convince people of equality," he said. "One of the guys said, 'We have to share our stories. Because once people know about us, they'll understand that we're just like them.'
"I think that's the biggest need in what's happening here. Once you find out it's your brother, your best friend, your co-worker or whoever, and you already had that emotional connection to them, it completely changes the game."