Jallen Messersmith didn’t set out to be a pioneer. He didn’t intend to generate headlines across the country – from local newspapers, television and radio stations to national outlets like ESPN, CBS and NBC.

Jallen Messersmith didn’t set out to be a pioneer. He didn’t intend to generate headlines across the country – from local newspapers, television and radio stations to national outlets like ESPN, CBS and NBC.

The 2011 Blue Springs High School graduate and Benedictine College basketball player just wanted to tell a story that might help others struggling with their own identity. On Tuesday, Outsports.com, a website which covers gay sports issues, profiled Messersmith, who became the first known active men’s college basketball player to come out as gay.

A whirlwind of overwhelmingly positive support and coverage followed for the 20-year-old, who just completed his sophomore year.

“It’s been crazy,” said Messersmith, who is majoring in accounting and will serve as junior class treasurer at Benedictine next school year. “But it’s been a good crazy. It’s been fun. It’s just good to see a lot of support coming out. I was not expecting that, but it’s awesome.

“I haven’t seen any sort of negative feedback, and I’ve been searching, looking up and down all day.”

Messersmith seems an unlikely candidate to break ground as the first gay college hoops player. He was raised Mormon, a religion that denounces homosexuality, and attends a school in Atchison, Kan., affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, which considers all homosexual acts a sin.

Although his family was always accepting, Messersmith said he struggled reconciling the Mormon message with the person he was starting to realize he was.

“I definitely tried to tell myself that I wasn’t (gay),” Messersmith said. “I tried putting it down in a different place and kind of pretending and trying to be something else that I wasn’t.”

Messersmith no longer attends church and is still coming to terms with his own spirituality, but he harbors no bitterness toward the religion. It taught him a lot of valuable lessons, he says, and allowed him to meet many great people.

From the administration at Benedictine, he’s received nothing but support.

“I didn’t know how they would take it,” Messersmith said. “I didn’t know if that would be something they wanted me to keep to myself. They actually pushed me along through it and encouraged me to be the way that I am.”

Messersmith says he was bullied relentlessly as a kid, which was at its worst from ages 8 to 13. It got so bad that he was home-schooled for two years prior to high school.

“I try not to think about it a lot,” Messersmith said of his memories of those years. “... I can’t remember specifics because I just tried to forget that kind of thing. But I can remember just coming home and not knowing where to turn. It was hard.”

It was that verbal abuse that ended up pushing Messersmith into basketball. He’d always been encouraged to play because of his height – he’s now 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds – but starring on the court was his way of lashing back at the bullies.

He excelled at Blue Springs, where in his senior season he set the single-season blocks record and was voted the Wildcats’ MVP, Mr. Hustle, Mr. Defense and Mr. Basketball after averaging 12.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game.

“He was a good kid,” said Blue Springs activities director Frank Wheeler, Messersmith’s high school coach, “somebody who just wanted to see the team be successful and was willing to do whatever it took to make us better. We knew he was the kind of kid who would be successful at whatever he decided to do.”

It was during his freshman year at Benedictine that Messersmith really came to grips with his sexuality. And it was a tragedy that convinced him to be honest about it.

Driving home for Christmas break in December 2011, Messersmith’s teammate R.J. Jones was killed in a car crash. Messersmith was devastated, and it prompted an awakening.

“It was one of those things that rattled me and shook me a lot,” Messersmith said. “It just came out of nowhere. ... It was something that changed the way I looked at life and the way I was living my life.”

If something similar happened to him, Messersmith realized he would die with a huge part of the person he is hidden from his loved ones. He made a pledge with himself to be a more honest and open person and that May he came out to his parents, Timothy and Chantelle Messersmith, and then told his coaches in the fall. His biggest fear all along was how his teammates would react and whether their attitudes would change his standing in the locker room.

He didn’t want to make a show of his announcement and instead decided to let the news gradually trickle out. His mom helped by telling his roommate Brett Fisher’s mother about Jallen’s sexual orientation during move-in day last fall. Brett Fisher’s mom then told her son, with Jallen’s permission. The news then spread from teammate to teammate.

"I actually was surprised to hear that," Fisher told Outsports.com, "but I brushed it off. We were going to be friends forever. I accept him for the person he is. It's still a normal friendship for us."

If anything, Messersmith’s life got better his sophomore season. There was no more sense of secrecy and he was totally accepted in the locker room. Teammates even started ribbing him about the number of dates he was going on.

“The year before was fine,” said Messersmith, who averaged 4.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and was third in the NAIA with 1.9 blocks per game, “it was just one of those things I always felt like I was hiding something. Then when I came out about it, it was just the exact same thing but they’ll talk to me the way they talk about girls but with guys. They’ll ask me for opinions on things and ask me stuff that they wouldn’t have asked me before.”

Messersmith didn’t crave attention, but toward the end of the season he started thinking about coming out publicly and contacted Outsports at the end of March. (He actually was in touch with the site before NBA player Jason Collins declared that he was gay.)

Obviously, that meant a spotlight would be on Messersmith, but he said the opportunity to help others outweighed that inconvenience.

“I know for me, I didn’t really have a person to look to and act like a basis of what I should do,” he said. “I wanted to try to help other people more than anything for me.”

Asked what advice he’d give someone in a similar situation that he went through, Messersmith said the key is first learning to accept yourself. Do that, and everything else falls in place.

“I think the biggest thing is to be comfortable with yourself,” he said. “I think with me, I wasn’t comfortable with myself and I wasn’t comfortable being who I was. But as soon as you get to the point where you can be comfortable no matter what, you can do anything.”

Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC