Ticats' Delvin Breaux has nine lives

Delvin Breaux.

Delvin Breaux.

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

HAMILTON - Delvin Breaux may not have fully confirmed his starting role with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats just yet, but no one is going to give the 24-year-old cornerback a run in the odds-overcome department.

It was 7 1/2 years ago that Breaux, according to his doctors, should have died on the football field.

It happened during a high school game with his future at LSU already determined. Breaux, looking to impress the LSU coaches who were in the stands, ran down and made a special teams tackle head first. Diving at his opponent’s knees, the contact knocked him out and left him temporarily paralyzed.

With concerned coaches and teammates surrounding him, Breaux came to but couldn’t initially get up. When he did get up he fully expected to just shake off the effects of the hit.

Back on the sidelines and with his helmet back on and pleading with his coaches to put him back on the field, the first signs that something very serious was wrong began.

His vision started to blur. His head started to hurt. When a trainer gave him a couple of aspirin to deal with the pain, Breaux couldn’t swallow them.

Soon after that he was on his way to the hospital in an ambulance. But even then he was in denial. It wasn’t until one of the doctors at that hospital told him he should have died on the football field that night, that the severity of what he was dealing with hit him.

X-rays showed the collision had either displaced or fractured three vertebrae. The reason he could not swallow the ibuprofen was because a disc has slipped and was pinching his esophagus making it impossible to swallow and difficult to breath.

Compounding the problem was a tiny piece of bone had come loose and was partially blocking his right vertebral artery which carries blood from the heart to the spine and brain.

Breaux was walking again two days later after a pair of surgeries and out of danger, but he wouldn’t play contact football again for another six years.

Friday barring something unforeseen, Breaux will start at cornerback as the Ticats open the season in Toronto against the Argos.

A solid camp, aided by a few injuries, has put him in line for a starting job. But for Breaux just being able to play the game he loves so much again is the greatest gift of all.

Breaux spent three years at LSU after the injury but never got on the field. He was running and active but tests showed the neck just couldn’t sustain another hit. He never did get medical clearance and that was almost the end of the football part of his life.

“It was hardest during college,” Breaux said following practice at Ron Joyce Stadium on the McMaster campus. “Just watching those guys practice without me took an emotional toll on me. At that point I was like ‘You know, football may be over for me. They’re not letting me play. Maybe I should just give it up.’”

But the more he thought about it the less likely that seemed.

“Football is part of me,” Breaux said. “It’s a big part of my life. To have this second chance to play feels great.”

About the only way to get his football fix before medial clearance was in flag football leagues but eventually that wasn’t enough either.

Friends convinced him try out for a semi-pro team in Hammond, La., and he excelled.

Last October he tried out for and made the New Orleans VooDoo, a member of the Arena Football League.

It was there that Danny McManus, the former Ticats quarterback and now head of U.S. scouting for the team saw him. Breaux was invited to a camp in Florida but the date coincided with one of his Arena League games so he never made it.

McManus though remained interested and got him out for an informal workout in California. Ticats defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer saw tape from that camp and he liked what he saw.

“We brought him in for the OTA’s and he just keeps progressing at a rapid pace,” Steinauer said.

Steinauer has seen plenty of comebacks throughout his career as player and now coach, but nothing that compares to what Breaux has done.

“Most of those guys (with serious neck injuries) don’t pass physicals so I can’t say I’ve ever encountered something like this,” he said.

Head coach Kent Austin, like Steinauer, liked what he saw from Breaux from the very first time he stepped on the field during OTA’s.

“He got better every day for sure, but he was pretty good from the very beginning I thought,” Austin said. “Once he really learned what we were doing and got some coaching from James (Stanley) and Orlondo, he got a lot better as camp went on.

“He’s strong, he’s fast and when he gets his hands on you you’re in trouble,” Austin said. “He has a lot of confidence and a short memory. Corners are going to get beat. We know that’s going to happen and he has the right mentality for that position.”

And now that he has a body that can once again stand up to the punishment a physical corner like Breaux demands of himself, his life in football can go on the way he always expected it would.


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