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, he 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, now 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 his earliest memory, one that caused him so much pain through elementary and middle school. Only his 6-3, 325-pound frame and aggressive nature have quieted the 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 misfortune as motivation, and he has become one of Long Island's most feared two-way tackles. He is a three-year starter for Bellport and was a Newsday All-Long Island first-team selection as a junior.
Sloan said his preference is to play defense: "I'd rather be the hammer than the nail.''
"Recruiters had some concerns because of his handicap," Bellport coach Joe Cipp Jr. said. "But after they watched his films, they were all over him. He's very athletic and runs well for a big man."
Cipp 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 said Sloan has adapted well. "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 OK; it's all part of the game."
Sloan has taken precautions to ensure that his good eye stays healthy. "I wear a protective visor to cover my eye," he said. "I don't even think about getting hurt. I just go out and play."
Players with certain heart conditions, brain disorders, liver and/or kidney issues cannot participate in interscholastic contact sports. "It's not an issue medically," Cipp said. "He can see clearly and his nose complements his face well so it doesn't block any part of his vision."
For Sloan, being taunted and having to defend himself has always lent itself to a primal need to survive. He has grown accustomed to adversity. 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 said. "His aunt's family has really supported him."
He has lived with his aunt - Annette Brown, his mother's sister - for the past seven years. Sloan credits her and his cousin, Tyrone Brown, for 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 with which he plays football. He 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," he 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."