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Dee Delaney: An Underdog Story

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Miami’s Most Important Player in 2017 is a Grad Transfer From Citadel? Could be.

Citadel v Georgia Southern
Dee Delaney looks to break up passes and receiver’s dreams for Miami next season.
Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Who is the most important player on the 2017 Miami Hurricanes?

We know the most talked about position: Quarterback. All spring, onlookers, reporters, and fans dissected every modicum of news, every soundbite from the coaches, and any shred of evidence offered up from practice to try and figure out who had the leg up in the battle to replace the departed Brad Kaaya. It’s true that the winner of the quarterback job this offseason has the chance to make or break the 2017 edition of Miami Hurricanes Football; however, we just don’t know enough about the quarterback competition to definitively point to one player and say, “Yep, that’s our guy.” Even if we could pick out one guy at this juncture, it’s just as likely he’ll end up a glorified game manager that leans on the defense, or an up-and-down true freshman, than anything resembling an impact player.

With so much uncertainty at quarterback and on the offensive line, the 2017 Hurricanes, in their current construct, look to be a squad that will score points when they can, but will mostly protect the ball and rely on the play of their tenacious defense to win close games. For that to come to fruition, though, the defense will have to maintain, or even elevate, its incredible production from 2016. The entire starting front seven and almost all the backups return from Manny Diaz’s debut season as Miami’s defensive coordinator. With another year to cement concepts and react even quicker in games, the front seven is sure to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

For Miami’s defense to go from “pretty good” to “elite”, however, the holes in the secondary must be filled. Miami lost its entire starting defensive backfield to graduation and the NFL, and there is not much in the way of experience on the last line of defense. The secondary needs a leader and that’s why, for my money, the player with the chance to make the most impact on the defensive backs, and therefore the 2017 Hurricanes, is a guy many casual fans know almost nothing about....Dee Delaney.

Uhhh....WHO?!

If you follow Miami Hurricanes news daily, then this man needs no introduction. 2 time FCS All-American at the Citadel. 13 career interceptions in 3 seasons. Mid-round draft pick according to the NFL Advisory Board. But, like the fans that don’t follow as closely and have never heard the name “Dee Delaney”, are wondering....how does a 5th year senior from a FCS school become THE key player for a traditional powerhouse like Miami?

Get to know new Miami Hurricanes cornerback Dee Delaney.

Backstory

Devonta “Dee” Delaney comes from humble beginnings in Beaufort, South Carolina; however, Dee spent his high school years in Seabrook, South Carolina, a small unincorporated community on the outskirts of Beaufort. For context, if you’ve ever seen the Randy Moss ESPN “30 for 30” Rand University, think of Moss’ isolated hometown of Rand, West Virginia to get a better idea of Seabrook. Every high school, especially ones located in small, tight-knit communities, has that typical stud athlete. You know the type: the guy that was physically just a notch above everyone else and was the best pure athlete whenever he stepped onto the field, no matter the sport. Dee Delaney was that guy in Seabrook and he starred on Whale Branch High School’s baseball and basketball teams.

But football was where his true talent lied, in which he was a standout wide receiver that also pulled double duty at cornerback. He caught 35 passes for 899 yards and 14 touchdowns, returned two punts for scores, and intercepted three passes his senior season. Delaney was also named the South Carolina Region 5A Wide Receiver and Offensive Player of the Year and was selected to play in the North/South All-Star game.

Alas, he was a raw prospect for the college level at a small high school, in a place the world had forgotten. When it came time for the Class of 2013 to sign, Delaney was overlooked by even the local FBS schools Clemson and South Carolina and was left with mostly only FCS offers. The only FBS school that had offered was Georgia State, but, as the FBS’s latest addition, they hadn’t even played a season in the FBS yet and were a relatively new football program overall, beginning their first season in 2010. There was a lot of uncertainty with Georgia State. Even so, for most 18 year old football players, an FBS offer, any FBS offer, trumps any FCS offer by default. But Delaney saw something he liked in the Citadel, the small military school in Charleston, South Carolina, and coach Kevin Higgins convinced him to sign with the Bulldogs over Georgia State and FCS school Western Carolina.

Citadel Days

Even though he was an award winning wide receiver in high school, The Citadel coaches made the call to have Delaney focus on cornerback full-time in college. That decision would turn out to pay huge dividends down the line. Still raw at corner and needing time to learn the nuances of the position, Delaney redshirted his first year on campus at the Citadel in 2013. He then showed his potential as a redshirt freshman in 2014, starting 11 games and recording 51 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 PBU’s. It wasn’t until his sophomore season in 2015, though, that he really turned that potential into something special. Delaney was named to the Walter Camp FCS All-American team by registering 46 tackles, picking off 5 passes, and making 8 PBU’s. Going into his junior season in 2016, Delaney was already making NFL Draft noise, being named to a watch list of 5 FCS juniors that were projected to be drafted. Delaney did not disappoint and decided to put on an encore performance, again making the FCS All-American team and using his ball-hawking skills to record 6 interceptions, giving him 13 over his 3 year career, 2nd all-time at Citadel.

After another standout season, Delaney was ready to make the jump to the NFL and filed his paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Board to get an idea where he stood with NFL franchises in the 2017 draft. While he got a mid-round grade back from the Board, they gave him an interesting recommendation: transfer up to an FBS level school for your senior year, prove your mettle against increased competition, and raise your draft stock for 2018. Based on this advice, Delaney started looking around to see if FBS schools would be interested in his services for a year. With little returning experience at the cornerback position, Manny Diaz heard of Delaney’s situation and made it his mission to land the talented corner. After a visit to Coral Gables, a match was made. Not long after, Delaney was writing an open letter to the Citadel community, explaining his decision to spend his last year at the University of Miami.

The table had been set. It was time to get to work.

Future is Bright at Miami

Delaney graduated from the Citadel earlier this month, then hopped on a plane and reported to Miami over the weekend for Summer Session A.

Delaney joins a secondary in desperate need of a steady performer that the coaches can trust after seeing 2 senior corners enter the NFL. A Miami defensive backfield contributor for 4 years, Corn Elder is off to the Carolina Panthers and his cornerback partner, Adrian Colbert, is now plying his trade with the San Francisco 49ers. Even former corner Sheldrick Redwine has been moved to safety, making the depth at corner questionable at best heading into 2017. Although sophomore Malek Young, who started four games last year in his debut season, has played a lot and earned the trust of Mike Rumph and Manny Diaz, there really isn’t much else. Ryan Mayes and Terrance Henley are entering their junior seasons and have the look of roster filler at Miami. Michael Jackson showed out well in spring and earned praise from coaches, but hasn’t proved anything in crunchtime yet. That’s it for the returning roster.

With this lack of depth, it is imperative that Delaney comes in, picks up Manny Diaz’s defense, and establishes himself as the Canes top dog at CB quickly. How does Delaney fit into Manny Diaz’s defensive scheme, you ask? Well, at 6’1 and 193 pounds, Delaney has the look of the prototypical tall, long corner that is all the rage these days. As Diaz likes to blitz and send the house frequently, corners in his scheme must be comfortable on a island matched up one-on-one with a receiver without help. Delaney is physical enough to matchup with taller wide receivers, bump them off the line, and play the press coverage required by a Manny Diaz defense. Delaney also has the speed to keep up with FBS-type wide receivers, having been clocked at 4.55 in the 40. With 13 career interceptions, his nose for the football and ability to create turnovers is something Miami hasn’t seen at corner since Artie Burns left.

Citadel v Georgia Southern
Get ready for this all day, ACC foes.
Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

It won’t be all sunshine and roses for Delaney though as he takes his time adjusting to the upgrade in opposing talent. He will be challenged to play with confidence in a league like the ACC that has more ability and speed than he has ever seen before. He will get beat sometimes to be sure, but Delaney must be mentally tough enough to move onto the next play without letting it effect him. He must also refine his technique and learn not to overly rely on his natural abilities like he has been able to at times in the past against lower level FCS competition.

Luckily for the Canes, Delaney will have all of summer and fall practice to begin his learning curve, as well as Games 1 & 2 versus Bethune Cookman and Arkansas State to get his feet wet. Looming large in Game 3, however, is Florida State. We’ll know a lot about just how far Delaney has come and if the coaches’ experiment has worked after this game. And it won’t be Delaney’s first matchup against the Seminoles. He recorded 6 tackles against a Jameis Winston led Noles team as a redshirt freshman in 2014, in a game the Citadel lost 37-12. As the Noles got up to an early 34-0 lead, they mostly avoided Delaney, knowing he was the Bulldog’s best cover man, and Winston only completed 2 passes on him, both on underneath routes to Rashad Greene.

The Canes were in a tough spot at corner going into the 2017 season, after having their seniors graduate and recruiting the position poorly in recent years. It just may take a kid from little ol’ Whale Branch High to save them. It is crucial that Delaney is not a miss and makes an impact in his one season in Miami, as he is the Canes’ most experienced, developed, and talented cornerback. Delaney beat the odds to get out of a small town in high school, and surpassed anyone’s wildest expectations for him again at the Citadel to position himself as an NFL Draft pick and recruited into a top FBS program. If history is any indicator, Miami will be just fine.

So who is Dee Delaney? Get ready to find out.