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Emmanuel Arceneaux is a star. All he has to do now is play like one.
Spend five minutes with the BC Lions receiver, the latest of general manager Wally Buono‘s prodigal sons to come home after a failed exploration of the National Football League, and Arceneaux will talk existentialism and SpongeBob SquarePants.
And he’ll lapse between first and third person when talking about himself, like he did Thursday: “My thing is focusing on Manny Arceneaux and how can I be better than the Manny Arceneaux from yesterday? So it’s a daily grind for me just to compete against myself.”
Sometimes Manny wins that competition but sometimes Manny loses, but always he is striving to be better.
We’re not sure what Arceneaux was like on Wednesday or the previous two years, as he wandered around the NFL futilely chasing a bigger paycheque. And don’t you dare call that pursuit Arceneux’s dream because Manny ain’t Manny unless he’s thinking about things bigger than football.
But we know what the 2010 Manny Arceneaux was like: a six-foot-two highlight reel who ran past defenders when he chose not to run through them and caught 67 passes – 11 of them for more than 30 yards – and finished with 1,114 yards and what seemed like a future without limits with the Lions. He was 23.
Then he went south, as they almost always do, and caught one pass in two years during stints with three NFL teams.
“You have to allow a man to go get his dream,” Buono said Thursday, during a news conference at Lions headquarters in Surrey. “You have to allow him to follow it to the point where he feels it’s time to come home.”
Now Arceneaux is back with the Lions, two years and three NFL games older, ready to be a star.
Anything less will be a disappointment, given how he played in the Canadian Football League as an undrafted kid from Alcorn State University in Mississippi, a 2½-hour drive from Arceneaux’s home in Alexandria, La.
But Arceneaux is the one with the ready-made star quality to replace CFL icon Geroy Simon, who left the Lions last winter to finish his Hall-of-Fame career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I’m a laid-back, chill, humble guy,” Arceneaux said.
“So whatever the role is, I’m going to just have to take on that role. I’m just trying to come in and do my part. I’m just trying to do me. I don’t want to look ahead and make promises on this or that.”
“Geroy is a great guy. We keep in touch and text all the time. He calls me Percy; that’s the nickname he gave me. I know I can always count on Geroy, whether he’s in BC or Saskatchewan. If I can hold up the traditions Geroy brought to the BC Lions, I wouldn’t mind doing that. But I want to have my own identity as Manny Arceneaux and not someone trying to fill Geroy’s shoes.”
BC coach Mike Benevides said: “You can’t replace Geroy Simon. We’re not going to put that weight on any one guy. We’ve got great receivers, all extremely hard-working, great character, and they’re going to give Travis a target.
“You can’t beat Geroy; Geroy was the best at what he has done.”
Quarterback Travis Lulay and Arceneaux were CFL rookies together in 2009. By then, however, Lulay had already had his own frustrating NFL experience. So Lulay, 29, stayed in BC when Arceneaux left.
“Even though it didn’t work out the way I wanted, I learned a ton of stuff,” Lulay said when asked if years chasing regular NFL employment are wasted years for those who don’t find it. “I know I got better as a football player. It can be tough for guys coming back to the CFL. Maybe things have changed and the situation is not exactly how it was when you left. But I think Manny has the right frame of mind – he’s a positive-thinker, hard-worker type of guy – and has a chance to succeed.”
Arceneaux dismissed the idea he lost two prime years of his football career and said he has grown. He has a psychology degree and plans to spend his next couple of off-seasons as a graduate student at Alcorn State.
“Man, I’ve grown a lot,” he said. “Mental toughness, period. That’s what life is about. It’s a mental game. Physically, that’s the least part. I’ve grown enough to understand a whole lot of things better.
“Manny Arceneaux hasn’t been sitting at home for two years watching SpongeBob or something. I’ve actually still been working. I just was limited in my game-time exposure. But the grind hasn’t stopped.
“I really have no regrets and it wasn’t a waste of time. Everything in life happens for a reason, you know what I’m saying? It was just an opportunity that I took advantage of and went down and tried, but everything just ain’t work out, you know. My thing is trial and error. I’m a grinder, I’m a journeyman and I’m still on this journey you call life and football. And right now I’m back in BC, so we’re going to see where this journey is headed from here.”
Probably to the end zone.