Missouri Tigers defensive end Michael Sam, a solid NFL draft prospect, came out gay Sunday.

“I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam. I'm a college graduate. I'm African-American. And I'm gay,” Sam told ESPN's Chris Connelly.

Sam said that he told his teammates and coaches in August.

The 24-year-old Sam, the Associated Press' SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is eligible for the NFL draft in May, leading to the possibility that Sam could become the NFL's first openly gay player in its nearly 100 year history.

“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.”

Sam, who also spoke to The New York Times, said that he decided to come out publicly because he was “afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me.”

“I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”

Missouri Tigers coach Gary Pinkel congratulated Sam in a statement.

“We're really happy for Michael that he's made the decision to announce this, and we're proud of him and how he represents Mizzou,” Pinkel said. “Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we're all on the same team and we all support each other.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said Sam was “rewriting the script for countless young athletes.”

“With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts – in our schools, churches and workplaces – it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star,” Ellis said in a statement.

Sam told Connelly that he knew he was attracted to other men “from a young age.”

He added that “telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared” to the adversity he's already faced.

“I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1988, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him … my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since 8th grade, currently both in jail,” he said.

NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said: “We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. … We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”