DeKALB, Ill. – 29-year-old Greg DeLuca is back on a football field for the first time in 9 years.
“Always loved being on close-knit, high-performing teams. Most of my greatest relationships in life have been formed with people I’ve done difficult things with. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity. I’m loving being back on the field.”
DeLuca formed close bonds while at Duke a decade ago, playing on the Blue Devil football team for two years and the lacrosse team for four, where he helped win two national championships.
But it was during his freshman year in Durham, when a teammate recommended the book Lone Survivor that the idea of applying for a completely new team took hold.
“I read that book and a light bulb went off. Just that idea clicked with me – four guys out in the woods in Afghanistan, going through this very difficult training. The close-knit bonds, the brotherhood of it – it checked so many boxes for me. That’s what put the idea in my head.”
After graduation, DeLuca joined the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 10 and Special Reconnaissance Team 2. He was stationed in Virginia Beach and deployed on missions to Africa, Kuwait and South America.
His athletic background prepared him physically and mentally while laying the foundation of skills needed for the elite Special Ops Force.
“Just as much as anything else, the team atmosphere. Learned how to be a good teammate, really – those attributes of selflessness and putting the team before yourself. I think that’s huge.”
After six years in active duty, DeLuca desired a new challenge in a familiar pursuit.
“Definitely not a popular recruiting pipeline for military veterans.”
The NCAA freezes your five-year eligibility when you join the military. So, DeLuca chose NIU – near his wife’s family in Rockford – to pursue a Masters degree in sports psychology and walk on to the Huskie football team.
“I’m learning about something I’m interested in in school and going out and hopefully leaving the program a little bit better than I found it.”
As a fullback nearing 30, DeLuca knows there’s no guarantee he’ll play at all this season. But if he can’t impact the game, he’ll continue impacting those around him.
“It’s a really unique mentorship opportunity. I’ve fit right in. I’ve learned as much from the guys on the team as they have from me.”