Former state champion wrestler and South Walton High School graduate Andrew “Odie” Delaney, 28, is making his amateur mixed martial arts debut at the Pensacola Civic Center on Sept. 29.

After winning a state championship his junior year in 2006 and placing fifth in the country his senior season, Delaney received a scholarship to The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I was a four time Southern Conference champion out there,” Delaney said, who shared he was also a division one all-American. “I think I was the first or second to do it.”

After college, he took a job in law enforcement in Charleston. In 2015, he was a first responder when white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Me and my partner were the first two in the door,” he said.

That traumatic event — paired with Delaney's Christian faith and a desire to become a role model — steered him out of law enforcement and into mixed martial arts.

“What that incident taught me is what can kind of happen when people let hatred fester in their heart,” Delaney said. “I’m not like inherently a fighter; I don’t like to fight people. I’m using my God-given talents to fight, to use this as platform to bring a message of love, and you know, kind of a message to young men about what it takes to be a man, and it has nothing to do with how tough you are or how much money you make, it’s the contents of your heart.”

One of the biggest challenges he’s faced while being back on the mats is learning to incorporate striking, on top Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling, which he said has become his “bread and butter.”

“MMA’s its own animal,” Delaney said. “And you can’t take everything from wrestling into MMA and expect everything to work.”

As of now, he’s working on modifying his strengths and transitioning them into the style that he’ll need to be successful during his heavyweight debut.

“I feel comfortable everywhere thanks to Danny (Ruiz, his coach),” said the 6-foot-4, 260-pound fighter who was born and raised in Alaska before moving to Florida at 14 years old. “I feel like I’m dangerous on my feet, on the ground, kind of any position I feel like I’m very dangerous.”

Ruiz, who also owns Capitao Jiu Jitsu and MMA in Fort Walton Beach, said they've been working to bridge the gap between MMA-styled grappling and the Delaney's freestyle wrestling knowledge from high school and college.

“He’s doing well, it’s difficult against me, but he’s been doing well,” said Ruize, a former pro fighter with 22 fights under his belt.

His advice for Delaney going into his first amateur fight was to rely on his strength and wrestling background.

“I don’t know a lot about (my opponent),” Delaney said. “I know he’s a boxer, and that’s about the extent that I know about him. Other than that, I’m letting Coach scout him, scout his videos and what he does.”

He said he’s looking forward to his fight by training and eating properly in preparation. One of his biggest motivations is setting a good example for his son, 6-month-old Andrew Delaney Jr., along with being a role model for any other young man looking for guidance.

“I want to bring honor back into the MMA game,” DeLaney said. “I feel like a lot of martial arts, the honor has kind of been washed out of it. … I think that sportsmanship is important, and I think that you can be an excellent person, even in the fight game, without compromising your honor.”