During his GMA interview, Underwood discussed how football had played a part in him repressing his sexuality, saying that the word "gay was always affiliated with a connotation of negativity"
Colton Underwood
Credit: Jerod Harris/Getty

Colton Underwood is continuing to receive support after he came out as gay on Wednesday. 

On Thursday, his college football coach and several of his former teammates from Illinois State University conveyed their praise for the Bachelor star, 29, to USA Today.

"Everyone knows him as this popular guy," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said. "He was a poster child for doing everything right on the football field and in training. He was one of the hardest workers I've ever coached as both a student and an athlete."

He continued, "I've always been very proud of him and couldn't be happier for him. I think I speak for all of his former teammates in saying that we support him in coming [out as gay]. He always led by example here [at Illinois State] and he's doing that [in his public life]." 

Mike Zimmer, who played football with Underwood at Illinois State, told the publication that the reality star called him several months ago to deliver the news personally.

"He seemed super relieved like a huge weight was taken off his shoulders," Zimmer said.

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"It was a little shocking," Zimmer said. "It took amazing courage to do that with me and then publicly. I wouldn't expect anything less from him as a person. He's been able to navigate his public life and he's had times in his life where he's had to dig down deep and fortify himself, to find that strength. That's what he's doing here." 

Underwood came out as gay during a sit-down interview with Robin Roberts that aired on Good Morning America Wednesday.

During the personal conversation, titled "Colton Underwood: In His Own Words," he discussed how football had played a part in him repressing his sexuality, saying that the word "gay was always affiliated with a connotation of negativity."

"There's a lot of things I look back ... no wonder I held it in," he said.

Upon hearing Underwood express those thoughts, his former teammate Jordan Neukirch told USA Today that he reached out to Underwood to apologize for any discriminatory language that he might have used back then.

"You never know what's going on in someone's inner world," Neukirch said. "We used to joke around because Colton was this good looking guy who wasn't always after girls, they were after him. Looking back, I wish I would have been more sensitive. I just told him anything I said back then was never meant to be (hurtful) or make him feel like he couldn't be himself. I can see how a (sports) culture could make that hard."

Shelby Harris, a defensive end for the Denver Broncos who used to play at Illinois State with Underwood, posted his support for his friend on Twitter.

Retweeting a clip from Underwood's GMA interview, Harris wrote: "As long as my guy is happy that's all that matters. Happy for you bro to live your truth. You still ugly but that's ok! Love you my guy."

During Wednesday's interview, Underwood said that coming to terms with his sexuality has made him the "happiest and healthiest" he has ever been. 

"I've ran from myself for a long time. I've hated myself for a long time, and I'm gay. And I came to terms with that earlier this year and have been processing it," the reality star said. "The next step in all of this was letting people know. I'm still nervous. It's been a journey, for sure."

"I'm emotional, but in such a good, happy, positive way," he continued. "I'm the happiest and healthiest I've ever been in my life, and that means the world to me."

Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC

Since then, many Bachelor Nation stars have also rallied around him and offered their support.

Hannah Godwin, the runner-up on Underwood's season, tells PEOPLE that she supports the former Bachelor lead and wishes him "the very best."

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"I support Colton for having the courage to finally be able to live his life authentically," she says. "Nobody should have to hide who they really are. I'll always wish Colton the very best and hoping he has found his peace."

Tayshia Adams, another runner-up who went on to become the Bachelorette, said in a statement to PEOPLE: "I'm very happy that Colton is able to now live his life openly and without fear of being his true self. I support his willingness to share his truth, and welcome the additional LGBTQ representation to Bachelor Nation with open arms."