If any University of Delaware football players need a dose of inspiration this season, they can look to one of their assistant coaches who went from starting to play football in the ninth grade to Super Bowl champion.

Clint Sintim, currently in his first year on the Blue Hen staff as outside linebackers coach, was born and raised in Northern Virginia but did not have an urge to play sports during his childhood. He did not begin his athletic career until the ninth grade, when he started playing freshman football.

Despite his relative inexperience, Sintim was bigger than most of the kids his age and quickly moved up to the varsity squad at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, Va. as a sophomore. By his junior year was getting recruiting letters from Atlantic Coast Conference schools, and eventually committed to the University of Virginia.

“We were playing the 3-4 defense and we through that he would be able to excel in that scheme,” said current Delaware head coach Danny Rocco, who was the Cavaliers’ associate head coach and linebackers coach at the time. “Clint was extremely explosive and powerful coming out of high school, and once we got him in our program, we were convinced he would be an outstanding player.”

After redshirting the 2004 season, Sintim earned freshman All-America and ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors the following year. Sintim started all 12 games for Virginia as a sophomore in 2006, before his career took off during his junior campaign when he was a first team All-ACC selection.

“In 2007, I knew where I was supposed to be and how to play the position,” Sintim remarked. “I developed a pass rush move, was able to get after the quarterback, and was pretty solid against the run.”

Following a solid senior season in which he led the nation’s linebackers with 11 sacks, Sintim’s NFL dreams came true when he was picked 45th in the 2009 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Sintim recalled. “I started tearing up when they called me. Everybody in my house was going crazy but I didn’t have many words to say, I just kind of broke down into tears. It was just a really good feeling.”

Sintim played mostly on special teams during his rookie season in the NFL, posting 16 tackles and a sack in 11 games before missing the final four contests of the year with an injury. He said things started to click midway through the 2010 campaign, but again his season was derailed when he suffered an ACL injury in Minnesota in the middle of December.

Sintim maintained a positive mindset which led to him aggressively rehab his injury, finally getting himself healthy. He played well in the Giants’ first couple of preseason games of 2011 and was considered one of the most improved players in camp, despite playing through some discomfort in his knee.

However in the third quarter of the final preseason game, Sintim tore his ACL again, along with his patella tendon, while attempting to tackle Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“At that moment it hit me, understanding that this might have been my last play,” he said.

Even though he was lost for the season, Sintim attempted to remain positive and rehabbed throughout the year. He still showed up at the team’s facility, and would watch the games either at the stadium or from home. After the Giants reached the postseason and won a couple of playoff games, Sintim had the entire team sign a ball in case they ended up Super Bowl champions.

Following an overtime win over the San Francisco 49’ers in the NFC Championship Game, Sintim watched Super Bowl XLVI from the sidelines as the Giants posted a thrilling 21-17 victory over the Patriots in Indianapolis.

“I remember hobbling on the field with my camera phone just videoing everything,” he recalled. “It was amazing, and I got a lot of footage. They brought the Lombardi Trophy out and walked it down to the field, and we were all recording. You see that growing up as a kid on tv, but to see it in person after you’ve won is a surreal experience.”

Following the Super Bowl Sintim continued to rehab in an attempt to get healthy, but his knee was too damaged and eventually he came to accept that his playing days were over.

Although Sintim knew his playing career was coming to an end, he had begun to realize that he wanted to stay connected to the game as a coach. Sintim began his coaching career by participating in the NFL Minority Internship Program during a Washington Redskins preseason camp, and served as outside linebackers and special teams coach at the University of West Alabama. He then moved on to serve as a graduate assistant at his alma mater during the 2014 season.

Sintim then reunited with Rocco in 2015 at Richmond, where he was the Spiders’ linebackers and defensive ends coach for the previous two years. When Rocco made the move to Delaware last December, it was an easy decision for Sintim to follow him up I-95.

“This is my sixth year in coaching, so the move to Delaware for me was the next opportunity to grow,” Sintim said. “We have good players here, we have good resources – we have everything here that you need to compete for championships. I think that’s a big deal. In my short time here, you can see a culture change. The guys are buying into what Coach Rocco is talking about. So it’s exciting to be a part of something new and build it, and put your own spin on things.”

Sintim has wasted little time in building relationships with his players, including senior outside linebacker Anthony Jackson.

“Coach Sintim has been a major influence on our group since he came – just his energy, his knowledge, and the way he carries himself on the field,” Jackson said. “He’s not too many years removed from playing in the NFL, so we can connect on a different level and it translates to how we play on the field.”

“He’s got a lot of talent, and he relates really well to the student-athletes,” Rocco agreed. “Plus he has a really good understanding of the game, so he’s got a bright future.”

Sintim sees a bright future for the Blue Hen football program as well.

“The facility enhancements here are huge,” he explained. “The stadium is the second largest in the CAA. The new turf was just installed. The locker room is second to none in our conference. Two weight rooms. We’re one of the only schools in the FCS to have an indoor facility; we can do everything inside that we can do outside.

“So when you’re recruiting young men, you can talk about the development and future of the program, and talk about these facilities. And then obviously including the academic piece with over 150 different majors, Delaware really has the total package at our level as far as what you want and what you need to compete for a national championship.”

Sintim and the rest of the Blue Hen coaching staff got started on that path with last Thursday’s win over Delaware State, and will look to continue on it Saturday at Virginia Tech.