Of the 253 teams in FBS and FCS, two sophomores are leading the country in interceptions. Shawun Lurry of Northern Illinois, last week’s ASN FBS Player of the Week, and Dee Delaney of The Citadel are tops at getting to the ball with four each.
“I had no idea,” Delaney said. “A couple of my friends mentioned it to me.”
The cornerback from Beaufort, S.C., was known for his receiving abilities in high school. Delaney gives much of the credit for his picks to his fellow defensive backs for making him better.
“I’ve made an improvement because of the teammates that I have,” Delaney said. “They’ve pushed me; pushed me to the limit that I should be playing at. They’ve made a big impact on what I do.”
Starters Mariel Cooper, Malik Diggs and Kailik Williams are also locking down receivers with Delaney. But substitute and fellow sophomore Tyus Carter bonded with Delaney the most. Over the summer they made each other better by competing every day even beyond the football field.
“He really helped me open my eyes to see (the big picture),” Delaney said of Carter. “I know that he believes that I can make plays. With him believing in me pushed me a lot. Everything we did was a competition; playing video games, lifting, running sprints.”
Delaney’s interception totals are good, but when and how they’ve happened are more impressive.
After getting one of three Citadel interceptions in a season-opening rout of Davidson, Delaney went to work. The next game against Western Carolina, Delaney picked off Catamount quarterback Troy Mitchell twice. His second interception sealed the game late in the fourth quarter and it easily could have been a 101-yard pick-six. Delaney stepped in front of intended receiver Spearmen Robinson a yard deep in the end zone, then tight-roped the near sideline and barely stepped out of bounds at the 37-yard line just before making a great move to avoid the only would-be tackler between him and the end zone.
In Saturday’s 33-20 home loss to Charleston Southern, Delaney was again all over the field. Four plays after Delaney blocked Tyler Tekac’s extra-point try, Citadel’s defense was back on the field. A fumble by Evan McField put Charleston Southern on Citadel’s 40-yard line. Facing third-and-19, Delaney intercepted CSU quarterback Austin Brown and this time made the house call, returning it 44 yards to put Citadel up 17-6. Delaney had three tackles in addition to the pick-six and blocked punt. He was one of five players nominated for Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
Delaney has a chance to break Citadel’s single-season and career records for interceptions. The single-season mark is nine. Six picks in seven remaining games is possible. The career record is 18. Delaney has six and has 2 1/2 years to get 13 more.
What he prides himself on is treating every receiver with respect, something he picked up from fellow South Carolina native and current Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
“I read an article on him,” Delaney said. “Gilmore respects every receiver he goes against. He treats every receiver the same way. Doesn’t play up to the good ones; play down to the bad ones. He treats everyone the same. That opened my eyes.”