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One hand, big goals for unlikely FCS star

Jim Weber
Dr. Saturday

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Jim Weber runs Lost Lettermen, devoted to keeping tabs on former college athletes and other nostalgia. This week, he catches up with Albany defensive end Eddie Delaney.

Making the leap from a school like the University of Albany to pro football is hard enough. Now imagine trying to do it one-handed.

That's the dream of Eddie Delaney, a defensive end at the FCS program who was born without a left hand.

"It's something that I guess always was an acceptance from the time I was born, it's just who I was and a part of my life," Delaney said on Wednesday. "And I definitely owe that to my parents because I was raised no differently than anyone else."

Growing up on Long Island, Delaney wanted to play Division I football so badly that he and his dad walked into the office of Albany coach Bob Ford five years ago in hopes of playing for the Great Danes despite not being recruited by them. A lot's changed since then.

Delaney now stands 6-foot-6 and tips the scales at 250 pounds, three inches and 50 pounds more than the day he walked into Ford's office as a freshman. Already a second-team All-Northwest Conference pick after both his sophomore and junior seasons, Delaney is now a fifth-year senior and team captain who leads the team in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (seven) through eight games.

"He's something to see," Ford said. "I can describe it to you but I think you'd actually have to observe it yourself. For example, an amazing thing is watching him tie his shoe. You think, 'What's so hard about that?' Eh, try it some day."{YSP:MORE}

Delaney's left arm is hardly unusable: He can bench press 300 pounds and distributes the weight of the barbell almost equally on both arms. And if having just one hand wasn't enough of a challenge, Delaney is also a Type I diabetic, requiring him to wear an insulin pump.

The Great Danes currently lead the Northwest Conference and are eyeing their first berth to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. As for Delaney, he recently received an invitation to the FCS Senior Scout Bowl, where he will showcase his skills leading up to next April's NFL draft.

While it's an extreme long shot that Delaney will be able to catch on with an NFL team, he's not about to be told what he can't do after all he's overcome. He already caught the eye of NFL personnel during Albany's 44-21 win over Columbia, when a Cleveland Browns scout asked an assistant coach about his star defensive end.

[Related: VIDEO: Watch Eddie Delaney in action at practice]

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"I'm going to hopefully take this football thing as long as I can," he said, adding that he's also open to playing in the Arena League, Canadian Football League or United Football League — if it survives. "So if I could play in any post-college football career, I mean I would absolutely love to. It would be a dream. That's been my dream since I was a kid."

It's easy to see why Delaney is a team captain, and was once voted prom king and vice president of the student council in high school. He's outgoing, extremely enthusiastic and loves to laugh. Take his student council slogan: "Vote for the man with one hand and a plan."

Nothing captures Delaney's imagination like Halloween. One year he went as Captain Hook. Last Saturday he went as surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm after a shark attack in 2003 and was the basis for the movie "Soul Surfer," released earlier this year. Delaney's costume included a blond wig and, yes, a bikini top.

"This girl has the best attitude and she's admired by so many people, including myself," said Delaney, who added, "She is way prettier than I am."

Playfully nicknamed "Hollywood" by his teammates for the media attention he's received over the years — including a brief profile by Sports Illustrated — Delaney loves speaking to young kids with disabilities, remembering how he idolized former major-league pitcher Jim Abbott as a child himself. When asked what it's like for kids to now look up to him, Delaney takes a long pause, clearly overwhelmed by the role reversal.

"It's crazy because the fact that there are people out there that look up to me and actually care about what I do on the field and kind of look at me as a sports figure, as a role model, it's really moving," Delaney said. "It really is."

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Jim Weber runs LostLettermen.com. He's on Twitter: Follow him @LostLettermen.

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