When we first caught up with Bellport's offensive tackle Ryan Sloan at the beginning of the season, he was soft spoken. Not exactly what you might expect when you see the 6-foot-3, 320-pound senior captain.
"It means a lot to me," he says when asked what football represents in his life. "It's everything in fact."
Sloan's size may make him an imposing and intimidating force on the football field, but his story makes you realize how very human he is.
He has had to face incredible obstacles. An early childhood accident left him blind in his right eye. His mother died of heart failure in 2003. Yet, through it all, he says football's positive influence has been the one constant that's pushed him forward. After being recruited by Rutgers, Stony Brook and Central Florida, he has signed his letter of intent with Syracuse. He is considered a top candidate for the Zellner award, as Suffolk County's best lineman.
"He's been thrown a few curve balls in his young life," says Bellport head coach Joe Cipp, Jr. “He lost his mom and that's a difficult thing and I hope he sees people do care about him. I'd like to see him be the best he can be in life or in football."
"We're all family here," says Sloan. “My coaches help me and my brothers are my team mates."
When we caught up with Sloan again recently, he was a little less soft spoken, and he had reason to shout. As he walked onto the field at Stony Brook University, to face East Islip for the Division 2 County title, he carried a big stick. And I'm not speaking metaphorically. He really carried a big stick—called the "Hit Stick."
"Last week against Newfield I had a big it," says Sloan. “Players with big hits get this. It's a big thing in our program. Everyone wants it and I just happened to get it!"
Sloan went on to help the Clippers grab the title, setting up key blocks that led to touchdowns. He also helped Coach Cipp grab his 210th career win, breaking the Suffolk County record.
After the County Championship, Sloan has 30 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one interception, 12 assists and two caused fumbles.
"It feels so great," says Sloan. "I've been waiting for this my whole life, since I was a kid in PAL. We had ups and downs. We started 1-2 but we came together as a family and turned the season around. It's the best feeling in the world. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right here in Bellport with my brothers."