Have you ever imagined what it must feel like to be a star college football player? Think about being a Heisman-winning quarterback and leading your team to the first ever College Football Playoff, hence Marcus Mariota. Or imagine running the ball like Melvin Gordon and being named the Big Ten player of the year. While it must feel great to have the spotlight, not every player shares such fame and fortune. Some players endure an elongated journey filled with blood, sweat and tears. For Jason Sloan, his journey has just begun.
Sloan started playing organized football in high school. Long before he laced up his first pair of cleats, he suffered a gruesome injury when he accidentally stabbed his right eye with a screwdriver. The scar on his right eyeball is a constant reminder of that horrific accident, but he never let that incident hold him back, becoming an important player for McKay High School in Salem, Oregon. The 6-foot-3 lineman was one of the biggest players on the Royal Scots football team, but many said he was “too small” for the collegiate level. Sloan never paid attention to the criticism. His goal was always to prove people wrong.
The 220-pound defensive end has been a member of the Oregon Ducks football team the past two seasons. Sloan has a unique role on the team. He doesn’t receive a lot of playing time, and he doesn’t travel with the team, either. He makes his mark in practice as a member of the Ducks’ defensive scout team.
A scout team is composed of a group of players that practice against the rotation players during the week. Some college programs carry up to 40 scouts. Not only does the scout team participate in every practice drill and workout; the group is also responsible for learning and mimicking the opposing teams’ defenses and offenses.
Since Sloan is part of the defensive scout team, he has to learn his own defensive playbook, and he also has to memorize the defense of every other school in the Pac-12 and any potential non-conference opponent, as well. “What we do is watch film on the opposing team and we mimic the opposing team’s defense, and we play against the starters (in practice),” Sloan says. The scout team’s main objective is to give the rotation players a taste of what they will see come game day.
Ikaika Johnson graduated from the University of Oregon last June and immediately joined the football team as a defensive intern. He works specifically with the scout team. One of Johnson’s most important duties is to provide video footage for the scouts, including footage of the Ducks’ practices. He also has to create a video packet of the upcoming opponent. “When we’re preparing for an opponent, it’s important for us to practice against what could be the opponent. For them [the scout team] to give us the look of our upcoming opponent is huge for our preparation,” he says.
Scout team members are asked to sacrifice their bodies, countless hours, and the possibility of receiving actual playing time is unlikely. Sloan says that he tries to ignore that aspect as much as he can. “I know the position that I’m in and I know it’s tough,” he says. “But at the same time, I know that I’m helping benefit my team. I know that if I keep working hard I can be in that same position (rotation player), and I know that the people who are starting have worked tremendously hard, and it shows that hard work pays off.”
Sam Kamp played for the Oregon Ducks from 2011 to 2014. The former defensive lineman was a member of the scout team his freshman year before spending his last three seasons as a rotation player. He believes the scouts are vital to the success of the team. “I have a huge appreciation for all of those guys. They take a beating from the rotation guys, who are usually way more aggressive, physical and athletic,” Kamp says. “Scout team guys must have a higher ratio of internal motivation than guys who rotate because they’re not rewarded with playing time on Saturdays.”
While Sloan has flown under the radar in the public eye, his coaches and teammates notice his dedication. Johnson admires Sloan’s heart and desire. He says Sloan comes to work every day and he leaves it all on the field. Kamp loves Sloan’s appreciation of life and his tenacity. “He plays against the most high-powered offense in the country weighing like 220-pounds,” Kamp says. “Every single one of those offensive lineman dwarfs him in strength and sheer weight, yet he pushes through and never gives up.”
That being said, Sloan has endured a steep learning curve, which creates moments of frustration. “I’m a really emotional player and things piss me off a lot,” Sloan says, laughing. “When I don’t play to my best or when I get blocked and I know there is something else I could have done, it personally frustrates me because I know I could be so much better.” To stay motivated, he thinks about every negative comment that has ever been made about him. “I like doubters, that really gets me going,” he says in a serious tone. “I love proving people wrong. When someone says I can’t do something, that pushes me to the max to show them that I can.”
Sloan’s main goals this off-season are to keep learning the playbook, and to get bigger and add muscle mass. “If I improve myself as a player, I’m helping my team no matter what,” Sloan says. “I think about playing time, but that’s not my main motivation. I want to benefit the team; you just have to sacrifice certain things.”
If the screwdriver that pierced Sloan’s eye would have traveled just a few more centimeters, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be reading this story right now. Sloan hopes to become a rotation player for the Ducks someday, but until then, he’s determined to keep fighting; to show others he belongs. “Never give up,” he says. “Fight for your dreams. Nothing is ever too unrealistic. As long as you can find a path, then it’s doable.”
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