It's all about "The U."
Growing up in Carol City, Fla., about 20 miles north of the University of Miami, NIU linebacker Jordan Delegal's life has been influenced by a school he never attended, but one that surrounds him at every turn.
On the field at Huskie Stadium, Delegal is charismatic, like someone that comes from a bloodline of an era that changed college football.
It was the era of "The U."
His father, Lucious Delegal, was a safety for the Miami Hurricanes, helping the team win its first national championship in 1983. He graduated from UM with an accounting degree in 1985.
The Hurricane teams of the 1980s not only won three championships in that decade, but ushered in a swagger-filled new brand of college football. That was the Miami Delegal was raised into.
That was "The U."
"I grew up in the stands and we went to every game," Delegal said. "It is definitely a culture in Miami. Most people aren't even Dolphins fans, but they're Miami fans."
Miami's culture played a big part in Delegal's youth. Carol City, now called Miami Gardens, was a rough, mainly Hispanic neighborhood. Delegal learned to speak fluent Spanish growing up to communicate with many of his neighbors and classmates.
The community was like a second family for Delegal, who grew up with his grandmother Jacqui Colyer. His father and mother, Regina Washington, both died when he was just 16 months old.
What would be a setback for many people was a time to grow for Delegal. He attended Miami games with Colyer, who worked for the University of Miami and raised him after his parents' deaths.
"He's a really amazing young man who has had a few challenges," Colyer said. "He has a great heart. When he does something wrong or makes a mistake, he'll admit it. He has a really strong spirit, but he listens."
Both in upbringing and personality, Delegal is much like his father. Lucious was adopted by Colyer and grew up in a tough environment in the city of Miami. He went to the University of Miami in tribute to his adopted mother. After Lucious' death, Colyer made sure his son knew about his father and the tradition of Miami Hurricanes football.
The family had Hurricanes season tickets since Delegal was three years old. Colyer would take him and his cousins to games at the Miami Orange Bowl and presented them opportunities to meet the coaches and players.
"Jordan knows and met Coach [Howard] Schnellenberger and I took him to hang out with his father's college roommate, the Blades brothers and Michael Irvin," Colyer said. "I knew all of them very well so he got to know a rich tradition."
Delegal grew up emulating and idolizing former Hurricanes such as Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and the late Sean Taylor. He wore No. 26 through high school because of Taylor and modeled his game after "The U" players he watched from the stands.
He grew up wanting to follow in the footsteps of his father and play for the Hurricanes. That road started after Delegal got into a little bit of trouble in Carol City. The next chapter of his life would start in a different part of south Florida.
Prior to attending high school Delegal moved to Hollywood, Fla. to live with his uncle, Darrell Brown or "Uncle Vince." There, he attended Chaminade Madonna High School and played safety for the Lions.
"He was my disciplinarian," Delegal said of Brown. "I got into a little bit of trouble, so my grandma shipped me off to him. To this day, he's one of my angels. He taught me how to do things right and how to be a man."
Discipline was a theme for Delegal in his early years. He was recruited out of high school by North Carolina State and assistant head coach Todd Stroud. Before he enrolled with the Wolfpack, head coach Chuck Amato was replaced, putting Delegal back on the recruiting market.
He later signed with Marshall and head coach Mark Snyder, but an off-campus fight, which he describes as, "one of the dumbest things I ever did," led him to Joliet Junior College.
Delegal eventually found himself at NIU, where he was introduced to a community much alike yet much different from the one he grew up in back in Carol City. Through his coaches, teammates and friends, Delegal found another family in DeKalb.
He has excelled on the football field and in the community. For the past two summers, Delegal has helped organize a youth football camp with the DeKalb Bengals, taking his uncle's lesson of paying it forward to heart. It's a lesson, along with discipline, that he will carry with him throughout life.
"We're going to see the next chapter of his life," said Delegal's grandmother Thelma Brown. "We're looking for good things to happen. I keep telling him all the time to pray, hold your head up and don't give up."
Delegal's life hasn't been written like a fairy tale, but the linebacker carries no regrets with him. His past, present and future have made him the man he is today, along with the help of a close-knit support group that helped him through the tough times.
"It has definitely humbled me a lot," the senior said. "I've been through a lot. It's something I can't change and wouldn't ask for it to be different. I have people who always stand by me, always support me. You can't find too many people like that, that care about your well being."
From the stands at the Miami Orange Bowl to the turf of Huskie Stadium, the influence of the Miami Hurricanes resides deep in the blood of Delegal. It's not something he can forget.
The University of Miami is more than just a college in this case. It's a way of life.
It's "The U."