When Ryan Gillett went out for the Santa Fe Christian football team freshman year, he knew there were doubters. He didn't blame them.
Football, after all, is a violent sport in which injuries — sometimes serious ones — occur even amid the best of circumstances. The circumstances amid Gillett's debut were not the best.
Gillett's vision has been limited to one eye since he was born, when the retina on his left eye failed to develop properly. The condition has left him with virtually no depth perception, and reduced his peripheral vision by about 30 percent. He has worn a prosthetic eye all his life.
Gillett played flag football in middle school, a game where serious injuries are rare.
Football was always his favorite sport.
"Most of my really close friends have known me for years, so they know that it's never held me back before, and they were probably less shocked than people who might not know me as well," Gillett said.
"It was something I'd always loved, and something I knew I wanted to do."
It didn't go well at first.
As a freshman, Gillett, a two-way lineman, had difficulty grasping complex schemes the Eagles run on both sides of the ball — a Delaware wing-T offense and a stunting defense.
Health concerns surfaced almost immediately, when he suffered a concussion.
He doesn't attribute his struggles to his disability.
"We never used it as an excuse. It's not something that we want to let hold me back," Gillett said.
"It's something that as long as I feel comfortable, (Eagles coach Nick Ruscetta's) going to let me do"
These days, Gillett has settled into a comfort zone. He's emerged as a hulking 6-foot-4 240-pounder who routinely blows opponents off the line of scrimmage with merciless efficiency.
His football stock has soared, Ruscetta said.
"He's a legitimate" college prospect, Ruscetta said. "Without him, we're hurting."
Gillett could play at a Div. I program, but would probably be happier in a smaller Div. II environment where he could make a more immediate impact, Ruscetta said.
"If I'm going somewhere, it's because the coach wants to give me a chance to compete for a spot," Gillett said.
Gillett is also a competitive SFC golfer, a nine-handicap that's considered above average for a high school golfer. Ruscetta, who also coaches the golf team, counts Gillett among a rare breed of athletes who can play both sports.
Gillett's competitive spirit has rubbed off on his teammates, Eagles wide/receiver/defensive back Barrett Floyd said.
"When I see how hard he works and everything he does out there, I'm just like, 'I have two eyes, I should be able to do everything he's doing,' " Floyd said.
Additional challenges have surfaced too. He's rehabbing from his second knee surgery in nine months.
But Gillett has yet to meet a challenge he couldn't overcome.
"No matter what you think your situation is, you can do anything," he said. "If someone looked at me and said, 'Oh, he has one eye, I don't think he can play a contact sport,' ... if you want to do it, and you put your mind into it, you can work for it as hard as you can and you can really make a difference.
"You can play and be good and not be someone who just stands there."