Birth defect doesn’t slow Indiana St kicker

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TERRE HAUTE, IND. (AP) - Brett Sheldon notices the uncomfortable glances and awkward stares from those who don’t know him. He knows that no matter what he does, some people will never see him as just one of the guys, another football player on the Indiana State roster.

Sheldon is the 22-year-old backup kicker for the Sycamores and it so happens that he was born with short arms and hands with three fingers. The birth defect didn’t stop him from chasing his dream of playing college football and he made the team as a walk-on.

Sheldon suited up but didn’t play in Indiana State’s 57-7 win over St. Joseph’s (Ind.) this past Saturday, in part because of a left shin injury. He expects to be ready if called upon this Saturday at Cincinnati.

“It’s always in the back of my mind,” the physical education major said.

Sheldon figures if he plays, maybe then people will see his talent first and his foot-long arms later.

“I’m aware of it,” he said. “I know exactly, from an early age, how some people look at me. That motivates me to not let anybody take anything away from me. I’ll compete with anybody.”

Sheldon is mostly self-sufficient. He clothes himself, does his schoolwork without assistance and can play most any sport. He drives a Dodge Ram truck, though he sits close to the steering wheel and the airbag is disabled for safety reasons. He can catch a football, even though he can’t cross his arms, and he consistently throws a perfect spiral. He gets help putting on his football equipment, but after that, he’s another football player.

“I enjoy being independent, but I also don’t feel ashamed to ask for help,” he said.

Those close to him say the way he’s handled his birth defect exceeds his talent. His family members beam with pride when they discuss his athletic successes and his growth as a person. His coaches are thrilled to have him.

“He wouldn’t tell you he’s gone through anything different, that’s the thing about him,” his position coach, Jesse Minter, said. “He brings an added dimension, an extra heartbeat to the team. When guys say they can’t do this, can’t do that, all you’ve got to do is say, ‘Look at this guy over here.’”

The starting kicker, freshman Cory Little, made a 24-yard field goal and 6 of 8 extra points in the season opener. Minter said Sheldon has earned his No. 2 position, and he would have no problem putting him in a game.

“He’s one snap away,” Minter said. “You never know. We’ll see how the first guy does, and if we feel we need to make a change, Brett will be the first one in.”

His teammates are impressed.

“He doesn’t let his handicap or disability hold him back any,” quarterback and holder Matt Seliger said. “Everybody looks at it at first, and then you kind of just forget about it because he gets along with everybody. You really don’t notice it after a while.”

Most of the people he has played sports with haven’t initially taken him seriously. That’s when the extrovert comes out.

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