FARGO-From living on the streets of southern California at nine years old, to living in the back seat of his car, to moving to Mayville, N.D., to play football, Brandon Sloan's experiences are all the motivation he needs to be a mentor for the athletes he trains.
Sloan is a cornerback for the Fargo Invaders semipro football team that will play its home opener at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 14, at Fargo Shanley High School.
Sloan also owns a personal training company based in Grand Forks called Sloan Athletics. It focuses on individuals with disabilities, student athletes and troubled youth. He found that he took naturally to mentoring his athletes and measures his success on the impact he has on their lives. He focuses more on life off the field than on it.
"I base success on how many lives I've been able to change," Sloan said. "I've been able to touch a lot of kids and a lot of adults. I haven't made a million. I haven't ended up on Forbes list or anything. As far as I'm concerned, business is booming."
Because he was once a foster child himself, Sloan is passionate about helping children in that situation. He offers them free training, spends time with them away from sports and encourages them to vent their frustrations about their lives to him. He says his goal is to set them up for success when they age out of the foster care system-something he didn't have.
"I always tell myself I was one positive role model away from making the right decisions in my life," Sloan said. "That role model never showed up. I want to be that role model for somebody. I want the guys to have a role model that says it's bigger than sports."
Sloan entered the foster care system after spending a year living on the streets of California. He said his mom was addicted to drugs and in abusive relationships and couldn't take care of him. His four siblings had already been put into foster care, but nobody thought to get him there.
After a full year on the streets, he finally got put into foster care on his 10th birthday. He spent the next eight years of his life moving from foster home to foster home. He said if you name a city in southern California, he has probably lived there.
"Growing up, it was like I was a feral kid," Sloan said. "I wasn't used to being in a household and I wasn't used to having rules. That was my story. I went from home to home to home because I had violent outbursts and I didn't know how to channel my anger."
When he was 16 years old, he found an outlet for that anger. The football coach at Elsinore High School noticed how athletic he was and asked him to join the team. He found instant success.
"It was like I had been playing my whole life," Sloan said. "I was instantly one of the best players on the team. That was a gift."
Sloan was named to the all-state team at cornerback his senior year and said he had shoeboxes full of recruitment letters. He wasn't concerned with going to college at the time, however.
"I knew that I was going to age out of foster care," he said. "I had months before I turned 18, so I needed to figure out what I was going to do. I just knew that I needed to find my family."
Instead of taking a football scholarship and going to college after graduating from high school, Sloan moved to Los Angeles to find his mom. She and his sister lived in a rough neighborhood and it didn't take him long to realize he had made a mistake. He said his mom and sisters were battling addictions and were not in any shape to help him. He realized after about six months that his life was not going in a positive direction in LA.
"Once things started getting really bad for me and I was getting shot at, I really got out of there as quick as possible," Sloan said.
After leaving Los Angeles, he moved to Hemet, Calif. to play football at Mt. San Jacinto community college. He finally felt his life coming together there. Like any college student, he had his first experience living on his own and got a job to pay his own bills. He was successful on the football field as well, being named to the all-conference team both of his two years with the team. Everything was finally working out for Sloan.
That was until he went home from class one day and found a lock on his door. His roommates had been pocketing his share of the rent and not paying the landlord, he said. There were three weeks left in the spring semester and his tuition was already paid, so he kept going to school and slept in the backseat of his orange Neon.
"That was the only thing that kept me afloat," he said. "I get up and I go to school. I had school and a job and a car to sleep in."
Sloan had already looked into transferring to a four-year college, but living in the back of his car gave him extra incentive to make that transition as quickly as possible. John Haines, an assistant football coach at Mt. San Jacinto at the time and a Mayville State University alumnus, put him into contact with MSU.
"I'd sent guys to the region before," Haines said. "I got along well with Brandon. He was an upbeat guy and a hard worker. I felt like he just needed a change of environment. That area can be a little rough."
Mayville State had an opening for an athletic cornerback and also had an immediate opening in the dorms, so Sloan bought an $89 one-way Greyhound bus ticket and headed to North Dakota.
"I went to Mayville State because they had new dorm rooms and they had a place for me to stay that summer," Sloan said.
It turns out MSU was the perfect place for him. He earned a degree, majoring in social science and minoring in coaching and computer information technology.
"The school was perfect," Sloan said. "I was so far behind with my academics. I got so much individual attention from the teachers. I don't think I could have graduated from any other school in the country. They made the time for me."
Sloan extended his football career after college by joining the Fargo Invaders semi-pro football team. The 5-foot-10 cornerback said he is not ready to give up playing football yet, after not starting until later in life than most.
"I only had 4 years of football experience," said Sloan who had five interceptions for the Invaders in 2015. "I figured I could still play. Not many people retire after just four years of playing football."