Eagle's catching on

CHRIS OCCHIUZZI -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Sometimes, success in sports is all about timing.

For Gatineau native Eric Deslauriers, a wide receiver with the Eastern Michigan Eagles, opportunity finally knocked this season and he made the most of it.

Deslauriers, a redshirt sophomore, became the Eagles' go-to guy on offence and earned the U.S. college football team's most valuable player award for 2004.

But the individual awards are not what make Deslauriers most proud.

"I'm more satisfied with the way the team played this year than my personal achievements," said Deslauriers, 24, during a phone interview with the Sun.

"We made some big improvements, especially on offence."

The offence jumped to 21st overall this season after finishing near the bottom of the NCAA Division 1-A rankings in 2003. The Eagles gained 4,707 total yards and scored 37 touchdowns this season.

"We got a new coaching staff from Northwestern, who brought in a new system," said Deslauriers, referring to first-year Eagles coach Jeff Genyk and his staff. "It's working out great."

ON RISE IN MAC

The Eagles went from a 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the Mid American Conference in 2003 to 4-7 and -- more importantly -- 4-4 against MAC opponents in 2004.

The 6-foot-4, 201 lb. Deslauriers accounted for 27% of the yards and 35% of the team's touchdowns. He had 1,257 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 84 catches this year.

"Last season, I was thrown around 20 passes my way and I had 15 catches," said Deslauriers, who totalled 221 yards and had just one touchdown in 2003. "This season, they were getting me the ball more."

Deslauriers currently ranks third in NCAA receiving statistics this season among almost 2,000 receivers. Even more impressive: Deslauriers' numbers rank him one spot above Michigan's Braylon Edwards, considered by many the No. 1 receiver prospect in the 2005 NFL draft's senior class.

Deslauriers was actually recruited as a quarterback. He was a first-team all-star selection in 2001 as the pivot for Champlain College Prep in Lennoxville, Que., where he completed 77-of-177 passes for 1,347 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games. Deslauriers also rushed for 232 yards and three touchdowns on 56 carries that year.

Deslauriers played Ottawa Myers Riders club football from tyke to midget, and spent time as a receiver there, making it an easy adjustment to his current role.

"I played wide receiver back home, so it was easy to jump back into it," said Deslauriers.

After being assigned to the Eagles' practice squad as a quarterback in 2002, Deslauriers became a wide receiver last year and started 10 of 12 games.

Twice this season, Deslauriers has totalled more than 200 yards receiving. Against Central Michigan, he turned in a 207-yard, three touchdown, 14-reception performance in a 61-58 Eagles win. The second came against Ball State, when Deslauriers caught 10 passes for 209 yards and two scores in a 31-24 victory. Add 100 yards receiving in four other games this season and it's easy to see why Deslauriers is the team's MVP.

NFL PIPELINE

The MAC has become a major pipeline to the NFL in recent years -- Steelers rookie Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, Ohio) is a graduate of the league, along with Marshall products Chad Pennington (N.Y. Jets), Randy Moss (Minnesota) and Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville).

But Deslauriers' focus for the moment remains on his team at Eastern Michigan.

"We have pretty much all of our starters back (for 2005)," he said. "Our offence is back ... hopefully we'll get some good recruits and have a good year next season."


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