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Jace Anderson jumps during a Husker track and field meet. 

It was a normal day for Jace Anderson.

He woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast and brushed his teeth — the daily routine.

While in his bedroom, he overheard his parents questioning his recent behavior –– the way he acted, the amount of time it took him to get ready, his relationships with girls –– everything came into question. He knew in his heart there was truth to their speculations. He’d known for as long as he could remember, yet he suppressed those feelings and told himself he is not the person his family thought he was.

The story goes all the way back to Logan View Public Schools, where Anderson discovered his athletic ability.   

He became a multi-sport athlete for the Raiders. He participated in basketball, football and track and field. He said track and field was his main passion.

Later, Anderson’s mother announced they would be moving to Lincoln for job purposes shortly after her son qualified for the state track meet in triple and long jump his sophomore year.

He would then take his talents to Lincoln Southeast High School.

“I knew that going to a bigger school would mean better competition and chances for me to excel at a higher level,” Anderson said.

And so he did.

Anderson qualified for the state track meet as a Knight. At the end of his senior year, he received numerous offers to run track from Division I schools around the country. Anderson said he desired a place close to home, and the University of Nebraska-Kearney and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sent Anderson offers.

And then Anderson became a UNK Loper.

In his debut meet, Anderson finished first in the triple jump with a mark of 47 feet and two inches. Despite a successful first season, the jumper did not foresee a future with the Lopers.

“I didn’t go to Kearney with the best mindset, because I didn’t want to go there to begin with,” Anderson said. “I’m somebody who wants to go far and explore the world, but not in Kearney, Nebraska.”

With the help of his former coach, Ross Fellows, Anderson contacted coaches at UNL, and transferred after completing one year in Kearney.  

The moment he stepped into Nebraska’s athletic facilities, Anderson said he immediately told himself he could not be the person his parents had believed him to be in high school.

“Within athletics there is a macho vibe, and it tends to be competitive,” he said. “I remember walking around the stadium and it was almost like I was on a mission. I never looked anybody in the eye and made sure my voice was low.”

Anderson’s life changed on a summer night in August, when he found himself alone at a party, standing on the balcony of Latitude Apartments. He had told a few friends about his struggle with accepting himself.

Three Nebraska linemen made their way toward Anderson, towering over the athlete. One of them said he heard Anderson “swung for the other team.”

After a moment of hesitation, Anderson knew that he could not deny being gay any longer. He said the reaction from all three players was something he will never forget.

“They hugged me,” Anderson said. “They thanked me for not denying it and told me they respected me and thought I was super cool.”

Anderson said a weight was lifted off his chest. The secret he had denied since he was a teenager was now out in the open.

A week later, Anderson posted a “coming out” video on YouTube. It shared his story about coming out and revealed his experience with the three football players.

“One day in chemistry class, my phone just started to blow up,” he said. “After class, I open up Facebook and see that there’s a picture attached to an article with my face.”

The caption included the words “gay” and “three football players.”

Anderson’s coming out video spread like wildfire and reached national attention. Fox News and OutSports contacted the athlete for interviews.

“There was still a lot of my family that I hadn’t told, and I guess it caught me off guard,” he said. “I felt a lot of emotions, and that day I kind of just stayed away from my phone. I got nothing but positive support and feedback. I felt scared, I felt happy, I felt anxious, I felt nervous. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.”

The reaction and support Anderson said he received from individuals around the nation continued to grow.

He said an individual in Sweden contacted Anderson to ask him questions for his project on homosexuality. The man heard Anderson’s story and said he thought it was moving how he came out as gay in front of his fellow athletes.

“I didn’t realize the position I was in that people took notice,” Anderson said. “I feel honored and blessed to be in a position where I can share my voice and experiences to help out anybody else. So many people have reached out to me and told me thank you.”

Anderson said for the first time in his life he felt genuinely happy, and he now feels comfortable walking into the Husker facilities. His coaches and teammates all treat him the same.

“I’m more willing to open myself up and give myself to other people. I wasn’t giving myself the chance to be accepted by everybody, because I was so scared that I wouldn’t be,” Anderson said.  “People can tell when you’re being real with them, so now people just live for that and want to be a part of that.”

Anderson’s roommate and friend, Wesley Unger, who is also gay, credits Anderson for influencing his own decision to come out.

“He’s been one of my best friends,” Unger said. “Now that I have been out for more than a semester, I couldn’t see myself going through what I did without him in my life. When I saw him being true to himself, it inspired me to do the same.”

Anderson said he has a long list of goals he would like to accomplish after his yearlong coming out process. Among those is to place at the Big Ten Championships in both indoor and outdoor events, and to qualify for both regionals and nationals.

“The main goal is to compete against the best athletes in the country,” he said.

Early next year, he will participate in a commercial sponsored by Sports Safe. Sports Safe is a company that promotes safety in high schools and colleges around the nation.

The main objective of the commercial is to show how Big Ten schools promote safety for all sexual orientations, races, religions, etc. Anderson will be accompanied by other Husker athletes too.

Anderson said he wants to continue to be a role model for LGBTQ athletes and encourages them to accept themselves.

“It’s your story to be written, you just have to go at your own pace.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com

This story originally appeared in The DN's February 2018 issue.