December 12, 2008

Eddie Delaney looks like your typical second-year college student, with his shaggy hair almost covering his eyes and traces of stubble dotting his chin. The only thing that makes him unique, at first glance, is his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame. The fact that he was second-team all-conference in the Division I-AA Northeast Conference as a redshirt freshman defensive end for the Albany Great Danes is impressive in its own right. A second look at Delaney, however, makes his accomplishment unfathomable.

He has only one hand.

Delaney was born without a left hand. His ability to participate in youth sports brought him a sense of normalcy. His ability to excel at the Division I level at a position that essentially involves hand-to-hand combat goes way beyond normalcy. Just don't use the "D" word around Delaney.

"I never looked at it as a disability," Delaney said. "Not once. "It might even be an advantage, because people might take me lightly."

Despite being a stellar football and lacrosse player at Sachem East High in Holtsville, N.Y., Delaney was lightly recruited and received interest from mainly Division II and III schools. Even Albany, the school that landed Delaney, had its doubts.

"We were concerned about his hand," said Albany coach Bob Ford, the architect of an Albany program that started as a club team in 1970. "How would he be able to play that position without being able to grab a jersey or a lineman? We just weren't sure it was possible at this level."

If Ford and his staff needed any convincing, they were sold during Delaney's redshirt season as he worked on the scout team at barely over 200 pounds against a veteran starting offensive line for a team that would go undefeated in the NEC.

Delaney's road to success started in the weight room, where he bulked up to his current playing weight by bench-pressing more than 300 pounds, balancing one part of the barbell with the end of his left arm.

"He is really quick off the ball and he uses his one good hand to stab the offensive lineman in the chest," said Great Danes defensive line coach Bill Banagan. "Using only one hand and turning his hips gives him a reach advantage,"

"The O-line calls it the Iron Claw," said Delaney, demonstrating on a writer how he is able to keep the blocker away from his body with only one hand.

What about the other arm?

"The nub?" replies Delaney. "I don't know, but the guys tell me it really hurts bad if you get hit by it."

The greatest indication that Delaney is one of the guys comes from the amount of good-natured ribbing he takes from his teammates, a sure sign that he has earned their respect and is in the club. His peers along the defensive line mess with him all the time. Other teammates call him Hollywood, referring to the significant amount of media attention he has received in overcoming his handicap.

While Delaney was giving a recent interview, starting quarterback Vinny Esposito made a point to call out "Hollywood" across the room and point to his own chest. When asked what that was all about Delaney just laughed and shrugged it off, like everything else he has had to go through in his young life and said, "He wants me to give him a shout-out, but I'm not going to."

The Eddie Delaney story would be remarkable enough if it ended there. But it doesn't. When he was six, Delaney was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. The news was especially devastating to his parents, who understood that their son would have yet another hurdle to overcome.

Delaney had to give himself two or three insulin shots a day until several years ago when he got hooked up with an insulin pump that includes a tube that was inserted into his leg and is protected on the field by only his thigh pad. That's right, Delaney plays Division I football with only one hand while carrying an insulin pump on his left leg.

"We didn't know whether or not we could count on him," recalls Ford. "What if he was our starter and he had to leave the field for 15 to 20 minutes to handle his diabetic issues?"

One person having to overcome two huge road blocks while he strives to achieve his dream seems at a minimum to be unfair, but only once during a lengthly conversation did Delaney prove to be human. And even then it was for just an instant. When asked whether he thought about the fact that he has to deal with two significant handicaps while most people have none, Delaney paused ever so slightly.

"Nah," said Delaney as he flashed his characteristic smile, "So many people have it so much worse than I do. I am the luckiest guy in the world. I am playing D-I football."

Delaney's ability to overcome obstacles has helped transform him into a new position on and off the Albany campus: role model.

Delaney's eyes light up when he talks about the Sugar Free Gang, a group of diabetics ages 6-12 who live in the Albany area. Delaney has spoken to them on a couple of occasions and the group has attended a Great Danes game. The kid who once got former Major League pitcher Jim Abbott's autograph as a youngster now gives out his signature to his own set of adoring fans.

But it is not only the youngsters who look up to Delaney and everything he has accomplished. It is his peers as well. "Some of my teammates have told me how cool they think it is that I am able to do what I have done," he says. "They can't imagine going through it with everything else they have going on in their lives."

If Delaney is to be believed, there is at least one benefit to attending college with one hand and an insulin pump. When asked about the social ramifications of his situation, Delaney grins from ear to ear.

"I think it helps, to be honest," he says. "If people are talking about a blond guy they met on campus, that could be anyone. If they mention that the guy was tall that narrows it down, but there are still a lot of people who match that description. If they say it was the kid with one hand, they pretty much know who they are talking about."

Delaney gets as much joy as anything, however, by fooling with some of the students who come across him for the first time. Last summer, when Albany's 2008 squad began training camp, Banagan alerted the incoming freshmen to Delaney's situation and told a heroic tale that involved sharks, drawing amazement on the looks of the newbies as Delaney feigned boredom for a story told too many times.

"I don't understand," said one confused teenager, "How did he get Diabetes then?"

Delaney didn't miss a beat.

"It was a diabetic shark," he said.

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