(Reuters) – Defensive end Michael Sam’s dream of becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League (NFL) was put on hold on Saturday when he failed to make the St. Louis Rams’ 53-man roster for the 2014 regular season.
The 24-year-old, a standout with the University of Missouri who had announced he was gay in February, was one of 22 players waived in the final cuts by the Rams to reach the roster limit before Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Sam, who became the first openly gay player to be selected in an NFL Draft when he was taken in the seventh round by the Rams in May, had said he would be watching the Missouri Tigers take on South Dakota State in Columbia, Missouri when the final roster moves were made.
As he is now on waivers, he can be claimed by any team but could join the Rams as part of a 10-player practice squad if he clears waivers.
“All my focus has been on playing and trying to make the team,” Sam had told reporters when the Rams introduced their draft selections three months ago.
“I’m determined to be great. I’m determined to make this team. I have every confidence in myself that I’ll make this team.”
Sam, the co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, had been vying with undrafted Ethan Westbrooks during the pre-season for the last of nine defensive line spots with the Rams.
Westbrooks, who made the roster on Saturday, ended up with 12 tackles and two sacks in four preseason games while Sam had 11 tackles and a team-leading three sacks.
“I believe (Sam) can play in this league, yes. As can some of the other guys on this team that had good preseasons,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after his team ended the preseason with a 14-13 loss to the Dolphins in Miami.
Fisher was scheduled to hold a news conference later on Saturday to discuss the team’s final roster moves.
St. Louis went into the preseason 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.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)