In the FCS Huddle: Albany star sheds disability like blockers
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Blake Cundiff says it happens often in the weight room used by University of Albany football players.
A player will come in and tell Albany's strength coach that he won't be able to lift this weight or that weight for some particular reason.
And then Cundiff will respond, "Oh really? Eddie doesn't have a hand. Eddie's doing it."
It's hard to measure up to the way Eddie Delaney refuses to put a limitation on his life.
He was born without a left hand. At age 6, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.
Yet Albany's 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end has developed into a two-time All-Northeast Conference second-team selection.
"You want your glass to be full, not half full, not a third full, you want it to be full," veteran Albany head coach Bob Ford said. "When Eddie Delaney graduates from this institution, his glass will be full."
This fall, the 22-year-old will be a redshirt senior when he hopes to add a third Northeast Conference championship to the communications degree and minor in business administration that he has been pursuing since he arrived at Albany in 2007. The Great Danes won conference titles in '07, when he was a redshirt on the scout team, and '08, when he earned All-NEC honors for the first time. They expect to be among the top contenders this season.
While Delaney's teammates draw inspiration from him, what everybody else is seeing isn't necessarily what he is believing. He doesn't consider his lack of a left hand to be a disability.
"It's all I've ever known," he said. "I've never played with two hands, so it's not like I had two hands and I lost it and was at a loss at some point of my life. It's just something I dealt with since I was a little guy. I've played football since I was 5 or 6 years old. It never really prevented me or held me back in any way. Obviously, I play with my right hand down and my left foot up in my stance on the left defensive end. I have a pretty long reach, I'm lucky in that sense that I'm a tall guy, so I have a long reach and I use my one arm at my advantage and I try to keep guys' hands off me."
At Albany, Delaney has grown a couple inches and put on nearly 50 pounds. Cundiff says Delaney's adaptability is his biggest asset in the weight room. Although he can't grip anything with his left arm, he will use straps to help secure weights that he balances on the stump.
On the field, he makes any adjustment necessary to make a play. Despite the lack of a hand, he uses the strength of his left forearm and biceps to help bring down an opposing player. Others claim it can hurt to be hit by the stump, which Delaney calls "The Nub".
Delaney has collected 111 tackles over the last three seasons, including a career-high 41 last season. He also forced a fumble and had four quarterback hurries while making the All-NEC second team for the second time.
"I kind of have a motor on me, I just try to get to the ball wherever it is," Delaney said. "I'm kind of like a rough-in-your-face type of guy, not really too much of a finesse guy or anything like that. I'm more of a bull-rusher rather than a speed passer. I'm always around the ball whether it's in the beginning of the play or the end of the play. I always try to get my nose in there."
Delaney's parents, Ed and Suzanne Delaney, got him involved in athletics at a young age, and he found confidence while playing them as he grew up on Long Island in Holtsville, N.Y. Whether it was baseball, football or whatever could meet his energetic ways, "I just got right into it and never made an excuse, I never felt sorry for myself. I always fit in really well," he said.
He maintains his diabetes has impacted him more athletically than the lack of a left hand.
He learned at a young age to check his blood-sugar level, regulate his diet and give himself insulin shots. In the fourth grade, he started to control the diabetes by wearing an insulin pump on his left leg.
"It's something that I just kind of dealt with," Delaney said. "Again my parents were with me the whole way and helped me become a more responsible person. That's the one thing it did to me, it made me much more responsible. At 6 years old, I had a lot more responsibility than another 6-year-old.
"Obviously, there's been some tough times, where my blood drops during the game or my blood-sugar is high before a game and I can't get it down. It's just a part of life."
Delaney knew it was going to be hard for a player with one hand to land a college scholarship. His one offer coming out of Sachem East High was for a partial scholarship to Division II Southern Connecticut.
He found Albany could be a better fit even though he would have to walk on to the football team. On the day Delaney and his father met Ford, neither knew there might not have been a more-equipped college coach for Delaney.
Ford, who this fall will enter his 42nd season as the only head coach Albany football has known, coached an offensive lineman at Springfield College who had only one hand and a wrestler at Albright College who was blind.
Ford recognized the inspiring side to Delaney long before the player did. Delaney has always been so comfortable with his situation that he has been slow to accept his position as a role model.
He could sense it last fall, however. The mother of a young boy who was born without a hand got in touch with Delaney and told him how he had been shy since he started attending school. Delaney presented an autographed photo of himself to the boy and talked to him after a game.
"I noticed when he was first talking to me, he had his arm covered with his long sleeve. By the time I was done talking to him, he kind of pulled his sleeve up and let his arm show, like he wasn't hiding," said Delaney, who as a youngster met Jim Abbott, the former major league pitcher who was born without a right hand.
"Eddie never puts his stump in his pocket or puts it behind his back, he stands right out in front of you," Ford said.
"He's just one of those fun stories that occur now and then in athletics that you say, 'Gosh, it's more than just scoring touchdowns and winning games, it's what some of the kids overcome and continue to play.' He's quite a story."
Albany extended a partial scholarship to Delaney after his redshirt freshman season and it's since been extended to a full scholarship. He carries a grade point average over 3.00.
He played through a labrum tear in his right shoulder last season and had surgery in late February to clean scar tissue and shave down bone.
The Great Danes finished 6-5 with a young squad. But they knocked off a CAA Football squad (Maine) for the third straight year and won their final three games behind redshirt freshman Buddy Leathley, who took over as the starting quarterback in midseason.
The team will return seven starters on each side of the ball and its two kickers this fall. Delaney says anything less than winning a NEC championship would be a letdown.
While his recent shoulder surgery would suggest he won't participate in contact drills during upcoming spring practices, Delaney says he will try to talk his coaches into it.
It's not surprising. It matches how Delaney wants to be treated like everybody else.
Disability? What disability?
"There's so many people around the world who have far worse situations than I have," he said, "and for me to feel sorry about myself would be selfish. I'm playing college football at a Division I school and I'm getting a college education. I consider myself very lucky."
03/04 09:37:50 ET