A week before Christmas in 2011, at the end of a game in which the result had been long decided, receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux pulled in the only regular-season reception of his two years in the NFL.
Arceneaux had spent most of the year on the practice roster, and it was the first game he dressed for the Minnesota Vikings. In his team’s end, he grabbed one ball and gained 10 yards. He dressed for two more games but didn’t catch another.
This spring, Arceneaux has returned north, to British Columbia and the CFL, where his pro career began in 2009, where he was once a standout.
Arceneaux, who grew up in Louisiana and played college ball at Alcorn State – a small school in Mississippi – was initially invited to B.C. Lions training camp on the basis of video footage. He was the surprise of camp and made the team, the youngest on the roster at 21; he was a star rookie and gained more than 800 yards. The next year, he topped 1,100.
Noted for his size and speed, he soon after signed with the Vikings.
Like many CFL stars, Arceneaux failed in the NFL. After Minnesota, where he was among the last cuts at 2012’s training camp, he spent the year on the Washington Redskins practice squad, making $5,700 (U.S.) a week. A brief sojourn with the New York Jets followed, signed this past January, released in early May.
There was the option to maybe sign with one more NFL team, try one more summer training camp, but Arceneaux decided it was time to play rather than scrape on the close-yet-distant edges of big-time football.
“Playing the game you love,” he cited as the principal reason for his return. Arceneaux, and the Lions, benefit from the receiver’s attendance at a full training camp, and his previous ties with quarterback Travis Lulay, and offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine.
Arceneaux touched slight bright lights at his final NFL stop in New York. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound receiver appeared on The Wendy Williams Show as “Guy Candy” and went on a date with an audience member. His recent tone is more chaste. On Twitter, the avowed Christian features a shot from the Williams show but this week, in a spate of two dozen or so tweets in a couple hours, was more self-help/self-improvement.
“Been telling myself,” he wrote in one, “that I want to line up my social life with my spiritual life, and just do things the right way.”
Unlike some others who have returned to the CFL, Arceneaux arrives back in the three-down game poised to make a difference. He turns 26 in September, and leads an impressive cast of receivers on the B.C. roster, which is especially impressive since the team traded hall of fame-bound Geroy Simon and released veteran Arland Bruce III in the off-season. Lulay will have ample targets, if his offensive line manages to hold up.
Arceneaux is one of two significant names Lions general manager Wally Buono has drawn back north (the second being imposing middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who rejoined late last season, and signed a new deal in the winter). Arceneaux, Buono says, returns in a good frame of mind, rather than despondent at failing in the NFL.
“I’m hoping for both of them, it’s starting point, not an end point,” the GM said.
Arceneaux is poised to become one of the top receivers in the CFL. Such returns are rare, but it would echo a name such as Jamel Richardson, who played four so-so seasons for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, then briefly tried his NFL hand with the Dallas Cowboys, before returning to star for the Montreal Alouettes.
Other cases turn out like running back Martell Mallett, who was named the CFL most outstanding rookie after his 2009 campaign with the Lions. Mallett bounced around NFL practice squads for two years, before returning the the CFL with Hamilton, where he blew out his Achilles tendon in training camp last year and is out of football.
For Arceneaux, the time on the fringe of the NFL was well-spent, says his agent, Bardia Ghahremani, who runs ISA Sports near Los Angeles. He cited in particular the work with Vikings receivers coach George Stewart, who in his career has tutored the likes of Terrell Owens.
“Emmanuel’s a lot more polished, a lot more technically sound,” Ghahremani said. “He became a much better player.”
The beacon of the NFL still shines, like a green light across the sound. After Arceneaux’s two-year CFL deal is done – at a reported lofty $140,000 a year – he’ll be just 27, in his physical prime, time for a last shot at big-time football.
“Every player grows up and says, ‘I want to play in the NFL,’” Ghahremani said. “It’s a dream but [right now] there’s a crossroads. Are you going to be better off playing, or better off bouncing around?”
Arceneaux knows he needs real time on a football field. “He just wanted to go play.”