It was his third birthday. And Ryan Sloan couldn't wait to celebrate his big day with family and friends. When his Mom called for him to come inside, Sloan rushed toward the house. And then it happened.
He ran right smack into the corner of an open car door. He doesn't exactly remember the pain but he is reminded of that accident every day. Sloan, who was rushed to the hospital, was left blind in his right eye.
"Some birthday, huh," said Sloan, who is a senior captain for the Bellport football team. "Accidents happen to little kids sometimes. I was so excited to get inside I ran right into the car."
It is the earliest memory of his life. And one that caused him so much pain through elementary and middle school. Only his massive frame of 6-3, 325 pounds, and aggressive nature, has quelled the constant teasing of ignorant classmates and opponents.
"It was hard in the beginning because I didn't want to get a glass eye," he said. "Kids were so mean in school and on the street. They'd call me Cyclops and other horrible names. I'd ignore them most of the time but it definitely hurt."
Sloan used his disability as motivation. And he has overcome the handicap to become one of Long Island's most feared two-way tackles. He is a three-year starter on the Bellport line and was a Newsday All-Long Island first-team selection as a junior.
He said his preference is to play defense, "I'd rather be the hammer than the nail."
"Recruiters had some concerns because of his handicap," said Bellport coach Joe Cipp Jr. "But after they watched his films, they were all over him. He's very athletic and runs well for a big man."
Cipp Jr. said Sloan is being pursued by Syracuse, Rutgers, Stony Brook and Central Florida.
"They see a versatile kid who can play both sides of the ball," he said. "He can get to the perimeter and he pursues very well."
Cipp Jr. added that Sloan has adapted well to the handicap and doesn't see that it affects him in an adverse way. Sloan agreed with his coach.
"I don't get blindsided because I know where I am on the field and I'm aware of the guys around me and where my teammates are supposed to be," Sloan said. "Having a solid knowledge of the play and the game helps me understand where the opponents should be at all times. That doesn't mean someone won't take a shot at me from the right side. But that's okay - it's all part of the game."
Sloan has always been in a defensive state of mind. Growing up, being taunted, having to defend himself, has always lent itself to a primal need to survive. It's what he's grown accustomed to. His mother died of heart failure in 2003 and he's never known his father.
"He's had some rough years and difficult circumstances," Cipp Jr. said. "His aunt's family has really supported him."
He's lived with his Aunt Annette Brown, his mother's sister, for the past seven years. And Sloan credits her and his cousin Tyrone Brown taking care of him and being excellent role models.
"Who knows where I'd be without them," Sloan said. "That's why I have to succeed in school and on the field so I can get into a good college."
Sloan has taken on life with the same zest that he plays football. He's upbeat, and has a vision of playing college football and getting an education.
"There's going to be twists and turns in life and you really never know what's going to happen," Sloan said. "Look at what happened to me. There are people in the world with worse problems than me. It's no big deal. I'll make the most of what God has given me."