The gift of Nick: Adoption was a blessing for the parents of Bison linebacker
FARGO—This having-a-child thing was hard. As the years went by, each one seemingly more painful than the previous, Chery DeLuca would look at friends, neighbors or anybody out and about with a family, and wonder why me.
Why couldn't she have a little boy or a little girl? She wanted to be a mom and even all the advances in family medicine weren't working. Every month when the time came to see if anything worked, hope turned to grief.
"Just grief for this child you didn't have," she said. "Why? Why? Why?"
With her mid-30s within sight, she felt like her clock was ticking down, if not expired. She and Mike DeLuca explored adoption, but it fell through.
Then came that phone call on a Friday night, right after work, asking if they were interested in another try at adoption. Knowing a previous attempt failed, they didn't tell anybody.
Two weeks later, on another Friday, they got another phone call. They were told their child was born. Not wanting to jinx anything beforehand, they didn't buy many baby amenities, only having a couple of outfits, a bottle, a blanket and a car seat still in its box that was sitting in the basement.
Sleep wasn't going to happen on Saturday night, because on Sunday morning—on Super Bowl Sunday of 1995— they were set to got to Methodist Hospital in Omaha, Neb. Chery remembers being awake at 2 a.m. Then it was 3 a.m. A few hours later, there was still no phone call telling them the adoption was off, so that meant it was on.
They were in a front entry area of the hospital when a nurse walked by with what Chery called the cutest baby.
"We were like, 'Oh, I hope our baby is going to be cute like that,'" she said.
Later, they were told to come back to another room to meet their new son. So they walked through a set of double doors and there he was.
"That was him," Chery said. "The cute baby."
Mike called it becoming a parent overnight, "so I wasn't sure what to expect."
The name was another matter. Above his crib was written "Gil," which Mike said was immediately disappointing because he thought the baby already had been named.
It turns out Gil was an acronym for Given In Love, a term for adoption. So Gil's new parents got to decide on another name.
They decided on Nick.
"When you look back on it, you realize it wasn't your plan," Chery said. "God had a plan for us and we didn't realize it at the time."
That plan is in his fifth year of school at North Dakota State, a four-year starter who will go down as one of the program's all-time greatest linebackers. He was always one of the biggest boys for his age growing up—he was more than 30 pounds as a 1-year-old—and that hasn't stopped now that childhood has turned to adulthood.
Nick is 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds with speed uncommon for a player that size. His hope is to reach the NFL after the college days are done, but for now the focus is on this season in general and Northern Iowa for a big Missouri Valley Football Conference game this week in particular.
He's talked to only a few of his teammates about his adoption and doesn't have any friends who went through the same situation. Like his two parents, he said "I'm a firm believer in everything has a plan."
"I think I was placed in the best situation possible as far as my upbringing," Nick said. "Obviously being adopted is a different upbringing. It's not usual, but I couldn't picture my life in any other way."
Mike and Chery were always open to Nick about his birthing situation, telling him over the years it's going to be up to him what he wants to do with it. Chery said she's seen other people keep the adoption a secret and she said that never turned out well for anybody.
If it ever came up, for instance, Chery was always referred to as the real mom and Mike as the real dad.
"We refer to her as the birth mom," Chery said. "Through the years, I've wondered if they tried to find him or not."
Moreover, the lawyer the DeLucas hired to represent the birth mother passed away. The situation took another tough turn earlier this year when Nick found out his birth mom died of cancer.
"I was very upset when I found out, I was absolutely in tears," Chery said. "It was always the plan that when Nick was 21, it would be his information to decide."
When they talked about it, Chery said Nick was unsettled but took the news better than she did. She said he also wondered if he has any siblings out there somewhere.
"It was a shocker, it's so hard," Nick said. "You have all kinds of emotions when you hear stuff like that. It's different because you don't know anything on that side of your family. You don't know what she was like or any of that stuff. It was obviously very sad."
The news, he said, threw a wrench in any kind of thoughts of tracking down his birth mom's family.
"I haven't found the right time and haven't found the right way to approach it," he said. "Maybe down the road, it's hard to say."
One thing that's easy to say: Both mom and dad haven't wasted many minutes with Nick over the years. When Chery used to throw the football to Nick when he was little, he always told her to "make him dive" for the ball.
In the 2015 FCS title game in Frisco, Texas, Nick made a diving interception that the Bison turned into a 17-0 lead, an advantage that was never threatened on their way to a fifth straight national championship.
"After the game, he and I both looked at each other and started laughing," Chery said. "I said, 'Mom, make me dive.' And he said that's exactly what I thought of when it happened."
They became parents at 34 years old, so that kind appreciation probably of throwing the ball around the yard became easier.
"Over time and throughout his life, he's constantly teaching me more than I'll ever teach him," Mike said. "He's an old soul that is very giving and very selfless. He doesn't have a braggadocious bone in his body. That's just the way he is."
The way he is, whether his name could have been Gil or is Nick.
"I've joked about that, there are a few guys on the team I've told," Nick said with a laugh. "That would have been different."
What isn't a joking matter is the benefit Mike and Chery got from adoption. When both were asked the question on what it's meant, words were hard to come by—probably because putting 23 years worth of words into a few sentences is impossible.
"Through the years and to this day we have always talked about how much they must have loved him to have made the most difficult and most loving choice to place him for adoption," Chery said. "That couldn't have been easy. He was an absolute beautiful baby. One glance at him and you were in love. My heart has hurt for them through the years that they didn't get to watch him become the wonderful, kind and talented young man that he is today, but they have always remained in my daily prayers of thanks for giving me the best gift of my life. The gift of my son and the chance to be his momma."