09/18/2016 12:29 EDT | Updated 09/19/2017 01:12 EDT

Halifax transgender teenager finds 'family' in football team

HALIFAX — About three months ago, Kenny Cooley nervously signed his name on a sign-up sheet to tryout for boys tackle football.

His anxiety about tryouts were not that of a typical teenager. Cooley is transgender and he was worried what the team would think.

"I had never played football before, but I was thinking, 'I can do this. I can possibly do this'," said the 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Halifax West High School.

"I had so many thoughts in my head about what the team would think of me if I tried out. I paced around the school for an hour before signing my name."

His concerns were not unfounded. Cooley decided to change schools after he came out as transgender during his first year of high school.

"I didn't have support at my old school. I lost quite a few friends when I came out. It was really rough," said Kenny, standing on his home football field just before a practice.

But the Halifax West Warriors have welcomed Cooley. The wide receiver describes his teammates as "very open and very accepting."

"I had a couple guys come up to me during training camp and say, 'This is a family sport. This is all about family. It doesn't matter who you are, you're part of the family if you're playing for this team'," said Cooley, wearing a white practice jersey and a red ball cap on backwards.

"It means the world to me. Coming onto the field with the guys and having them be so open with me, it's amazing. It feels like a family. It really does."

Cooley has been getting a lot of attention since making the team and was even contacted by a news outlet in the U.S. He said he hopes his story inspires other transgender people not to limit themselves.

"The attention I've gotten from being transgender hasn't always been the best. It's amazing to see how many caring people there are out in the world," said Cooley, who recently played in his first game.

"I want people to know that for trans people and the LGBTQA community as a whole — you're safe. You have to take the leap and go for what you want. You can't hold yourself back from things you want to achieve in life. It's your life."

Assistant head coach Nick MacLeod said he's only heard positive feedback about Cooley being on the team.

"Halifax West is a really diverse school, so I think it highlights," he said. "When Kenny came here, we asked him the same thing that we ask everybody else, that you put the team first and work hard and give 100 per cent effort."

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