Delvin Breaux’s welcome-to-the-NFL moment happened his first week on the job.
His New Orleans Saints were playing in Arizona and Breaux found himself lined up across from Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a superstar who has played in eight Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl and been on the cover of the Madden video game. Twice.
“I was like, that’s Larry Fitzgerald over there. And there’s Carson Palmer at quarterback. And I was on the same field as them, playing against them,” Breaux said this week. “It was a strange feeling. But amazing.”
Breaux had an outstanding rookie year with the Saints. He started all 16 games, made 45 tackles and registered three interceptions. Pro Football Focus, an advanced metrics sites that ranks players by position across the league, listed Breaux as the fifth-best corner in the NFL in October.
While Breaux’s performance may have surprised some — “There is no backing down from that guy,” Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano said of Breaux — it was simply a continuation of his time in Hamilton, where the former Tiger-Cat spent two seasons and earned a reputation as one of the best lockdown corners in the CFL.
“The NFL game is actually easier in some ways. There’s less motion, the field is smaller and the game is slower because of the 40 second play clock,” Breaux said. “The players in Canada are good, too.”
A Louisiana native, Breaux’s rise to prominence in his home state has allowed his remarkable story to be told to a whole new audience.
On Oct. 27, 2006 — two days after his 17th birthday — Breaux was playing a high-school football game when a devastating collision broke a vertebrae in his neck and displaced two more. It took five years to make it back to the field.
That recovery has turned Breaux into an inspirational figure for people who are suffering from the after-effects of spinal injuries.
“It’s been humbling. There’s been so many people who have reached out to say that my story has helped them stay motivated,” said Breaux. “I try and encourage all of them to stay positive and keep working, to make the best of the hard times.”
Breaux has stayed in touch with several teammates from his time in Hamilton and followed the team closely via ESPN webcasts and social media. He says the city will always feel like a second home.
“The Ticats were so good to me. They gave me a chance when nobody else would,” Breaux said. “I’ll always be grateful to the team and the city.”
Notes: The Ticats have re-signed international wide receiver Kealoha Pilares and international defensive back Tevrin Brandon. The 27-year-old Pilares signed with Hamilton on Sept. 3, 2015 and made his CFL debut in the Eastern Final against the Ottawa Redblacks, catching three passes for 15 yards. Brandon was on the team’s practice roster for a month last fall.