NEW YORK: Michael Sam has already made a significant impact on the National Football League, even though his long cherished dream to become the league’s first openly gay player may never materialise.
Though the 24-year-old defensive end failed to make the St Louis Rams’ final 53-man roster for the 2014 regular season on Saturday and cleared waivers the following day to remain on the outside looking in, he achieved one of his primary goals.
Ever since he ended his 2013 senior season as a University of Missouri standout by being awarded co-defensive player of the year honors in the Southeastern Conference, he has yearned to be judged purely on his merits as a football player.
And that is exactly what he got during his brief spell with the Rams during the preseason where his impressive work ethic and burning desire to simply be “one of the team” made a lasting impact with the entire coaching staff and his fellow players.
“Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said after the defensive end was cut amid 21 other roster moves before the NFL deadline.
“He got a chance to play a lot of snaps, he had the second-most snaps on the defensive line to Ethan Westbrooks, and was productive. Mike played well. He has the ability to play someplace. It’s gotta be the right place, it’s gotta be a fit.
“As someone told me years ago, the difference between a good player and an average player in this league is just snaps, it’s reps. He’s a much better player now than he was when he got here.”
Fisher said the final roster choices hinged not only on Sam’s competition with Westbrooks but also on the luxury of having nine defensive linemen on a team that utilises a four-man front.
St. Louis went into the pre-season training camp with eight defensive linemen already inked in on the roster: Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Alex Carrington and first-round pick Aaron Donald.
Sam said in a statement: “I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career,” he said.
Battling to prove himself has been the norm for Sam, one of eight children from a disadvantaged, broken home in the small town of Hitchcock, Texas, who has impressively overcome the odds.
“Adversity hits everyone,” said Sam. “I wanted to do great things. I wanted to play sports. I got better at football. I got better in my grades. I was the first in my family to graduate. I want to keep on fighting.”