Emmanuel Arceneaux doesn’t feel like he ever left Vancouver. The mountains and the trees in the Lower Mainland are unlike anything in Alexandria - a small city, directly in the geographical centre of Louisiana where the 25-year-old hails from. He loves the people in Canada's coastal gem, and he savours the city's best menus whenever he has a chance.
In his own words, he’s a mama’s boy, and spending time with her is what he misses most when he’s away playing football. They watch Law and Order: SVU, Spongebob Squarepants and Family Feud together. Manny says he’s better at the Feud than his mom is.
With league-wide interest in the wide receiver after he was waived by the New York Jets on May 7, he’s back in BC with a bigger work ethic than he left with in 2010.
“For the most part, everything has gone as planned and the way I figured it to go, just coming back and being a solid receiver,” he said after Saturday’s practice. “I really haven’t had any had any complaints other than this little bump in the road with the ankle sprain.”
Arceneaux spent most of Saturday in the ice bucket, nursing the bump-in-the-road sprain that he sustained in the BC Lions victory over the Edmonton Eskimos. Undeterred by his fine for using a pylon as a touchdown prop, he’s already got his mind on a new celebration for the next time he's on the field.
"ASAP," he laughs. "No props, but something funny."
After two successful seasons, and nearly 2,000 receiving yards with the Lions, Arceneaux had a chance to walk down an NFL tunnel when he was signed by the Minnesota Vikings to a three-year deal in 2011. It wasn’t until Week 15 that year that he’d be seen on the big screen.
|Just getting started|
“We’re really just warming up. That’s how I look at it. The fans and the football community haven’t seen too much yet because it’s still early. I really think there’s a lot more in store.”
- WR Emmanuel Arceneaux on working with QB Travis Lulay
“Man, I had butterflies. It’s a feeling you really can’t explain. Probably one of the greatest feelings was the first game being activated, we played against the [New Orleans] Saints,” he said. “Knowing that my mom and everybody back home was watching, it’s just like, ‘This is what it’s all about.’”
When the Vikings roster was reduced in 2012, Arceneaux was the odd-man out. He was picked up by the Washington Redskins, and later, by the Jets. Neither worked in his favour.
“You look at some situations, telling yourself you should be playing, or I’m better than this person, and at the end of the day, you don’t make that call,” he said. “It’s something that took me a minute to understand. It [has] prevented me and stopped me from being frustrated. I wanted to know why, and in life you can’t always know the reason why things happen.”
But business aspect of the game is cutthroat no matter what side of the border the league is on. Mental toughness for the wide receiver who left Vancouver at 23, has brought him back to the CFL as a more refined player at 25.
“My thing is, ‘What’s next’, I’m looking for the next opportunity,” he said. “Regardless of the journey I take, I’ve never reached the panic mode because I know that something better is yet to come for me.”
He’s worked hard to never push that panic button, because football doesn’t make or break you. Arceneaux took pages from his receiving coach in Minnesota, George Stewart, who taught him a lot about being a player, and being Emmanuel the man, outside of football.
“It’s all been one fun ride and experience,” he said, noting he hasn’t had to uproot a family the way some athletes do when they move around as much as he has. “Probably the hardest thing was shipping my truck. Seriously, that was the hard part.”
Even though Arceneaux wasn’t wearing Lions' orange on the field, he stayed in touch with his teammates during his entire NFL tenure. He’s trying to pick up where he left off with Travis Lulay, the quarterback who was a rookie in 2009, the same year Arceneaux made his debut.
“There’s a lot of balls that we left out there so far that we could have connected, but that comes with playing, more in the game...when you’re moving full speed against an opponent,” he said.
He’s working on the timing and rhythm with Lulay, trying to find the footing that will make the pairing unstoppable. Though he only has 12 receptions, he’s tallied 312 yards. (League-leading Toronto slotback Chad Owens has 380 yards with nearly triple the catches at 35.)
“We’re really just warming up. That’s how I look at it,” he said. “The fans and the football community haven’t seen too much yet because it’s still early. I really think there’s a lot more in store.”
As exciting as it was for Arceneaux’s family to see him play against the Saints in one of his three games as a Viking, he’s grateful for the coverage that he gets as a Lion. BC’s rainy victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on July 20 was broadcast on ESPN2, a channel that is available on basic cable subscriptions across the United States -- no special package needed to see the exceptionally-skilled Arceneaux score a 77-yard touchdown.
“A lot of people from back home saw that game. Just to see me on TV playing and representing the little small town that I’m from, it means a lot to the people in the community and the people who went to college with me,” he said. “A lot of them enjoy that...I always have people asking or tweeting how they can see the next CFL game.”
The fiery receiver with the smooth southern drawl might not see action in Tuesday’s rare Toronto game, but if anyone from home is watching, there’s a lot to love about the Lions who are seeking to improve to 4-1 at Rogers Centre.
“It’s just a team full of dogs. I like that; guys that’s ready to go to war,” he said of the 2013 squad. “It’s a team full of everybody who are brothers from another mother.... You go out there, look to your right, look to your left, you know you can trust the guys on either side of you.”
Fans can trust that as soon as Manny Arceneaux is ready to be on the field, he's not going to miss a beat.
"Let the world know," he said. "I love this game, and I love the hustle."