White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Delvin Breaux never doubted for a moment that he'd be where he is today: In an NFL training camp, competing for a spot at cornerback, showcasing his considerable skills to a team that needs his particular set of skills – a team that, in this case, happens to be his hometown New Orleans Saints.
Not even when the pain seared up his back and pierced upward through his neck Oct. 27, 2006, Breaux unable to swallow an ibuprofen because a disc near his esophagus had slipped, unable to swallow because the McDonogh 35 High School star had broken his neck – specifically, the C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae – in a game against Jesuit High at Tad Gormley Stadium.
"I was on kickoff during the third quarter," he said. "I was running down full speed on the left side, saw the returner coming up and I dove at his feet with my head up, and the front part of my facemask hit him right in the knee.
"I was out for maybe about two seconds, and Coach and everybody came to the field. They were asking me if I was all right and I was like, 'Yeah, I'm good.' They were like, 'Well, let's go. Get up.' So they helped me get up, I jogged off the field on my own, took my own helmet off, got to the sideline and I was ready to get back in in the next couple of series.
"That's when I felt a sharp pain in my neck and I sat down. My Dad came over, talked to me, the doctor gave me some ibuprofen and I couldn't swallow the ibuprofen. I tried to cough the pills up and that's when my neck started hurting – excruciating pain was coming up my back and my neck and I just told my Dad, 'Call the ambulance, something is wrong, take me to the hospital.' That's when the stretchers came, I went to the hospital and found out I broke my neck."
Delvin Breaux never doubted for a moment that he'd be where he is today – wearing jersey No. 40, his name listed right under Drew Brees' in the alphabetical listing of Saints in training camp at The Greenbrier – because for as long as he can remember, he envisioned himself playing in the NFL.
Not even when that broken neck cost him a collegiate career at LSU, the program for which he'd signed to play, derailed the dream and forced him to approach his climb from the bottom rung.
LSU honored his scholarship and he arrived on campus in December 2008, but he never was cleared to play; he was deemed a "player-coach" at LSU, but eventually stopped going to practice and left the program. In 2012, he made his way onto the roster of the Louisiana Bayou Vipers in the Gridiron Developmental Football League and a year later, it was on to the New Orleans VooDoo in the Arena Football League.
That same year, he earned a spot with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and in two seasons he posted 62 tackles, a sack, an interception (returned for a touchdown), 10 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, and was named a CFL All-Star in 2014.
"I was like, 'Maybe if I go out here and do my thing, I can show them that I can compete at a high level with the injury I had sustained a long time ago, maybe I can get a shot at the NFL,' " he said. "I was not thinking about it when I was playing in the actual games because I was trying to focus on making big plays in the CFL, but when the opportunity came for me to get NFL workouts, I just knew that it was going to be real.
"I said, 'Some team is going to take a chance on me.' I didn't know it was going to be the New Orleans Saints, I just said I knew some team would because I'm going to go out here and work hard for these workouts and tryouts and do my best."
Delvin Breaux never doubted for a moment that he'd be where he is today, possibly weeks away from the beginning of an NFL career, despite a circuitous route that at best might have discouraged, or at worst may have crushed, lesser men.
He's 25 years old today, 26 on Oct. 25, exponentially more seasoned than the horde of rookie and first-year players on the Saints roster entering training camp. But that experience – and the fact he also possesses a world of natural ability – appear to have benefitted the 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback.
He has blanketed receivers. He has deflected passes when he hasn't made acrobatic interceptions. He has not been engulfed by the stage or the competition.
Granted, most of what has been viewed has been exhibited in OTAs and minicamp, and those aren't exactly bright-light stages. But players in skill positions such as cornerback usually are among those who fairly can be assessed during the non-contact portion of work, and Breaux has been nothing if not positively noticeable during those drills.
"I dreamed about being in the NFL since I was 6, 7," he said. "Not necessarily with the Saints, but any NFL team that I would have been drafted by. But that didn't happen. So just to get this opportunity and know that my dream is finally coming true and it's actually a reality and not a dream anymore, it pushes me and motivates me much harder to make this team.
"(In the beginning, it was) just getting used to being back on a smaller field. I wouldn't say my transition is easy, it's like I'm going back to the basics. The CFL was much more difficult for me because of the rules and the style of game. But I've been playing high school and park ball football for so long that (getting readjusted to the NFL's rules) is like second nature now."
Delvin Breaux never doubted for a moment that he'd be where he is today.
The end of his career didn't flash before his eyes when he awoke on that field in 2006, when he couldn't gain medical clearance to play at LSU, when he wound through football's minor leagues or had to go to Canada for two years to prove himself worthy of a look by an NFL team.
"Oh, no," he said. "Oh, no. That never occurred to me because I always knew that one day … I always had that determination that I was going to be in the NFL, regardless. I was not going to stop trying until someone gave me an opportunity and a chance to showcase my talents.
"Just trying to make the team and going through what I've been through was hard enough. I'm happy to finally be here, getting an opportunity to go into training camp and try to make a name for myself and hopefully make this 53-man roster so we can win the Super Bowl.
"I can say (it's divine intervention), because of all it took and the journey I took to get where I am. But I always had that goal to be in the NFL one day and to have gone through what I've gone through to get the opportunity to play with my hometown team, it's a dream come true."
Delvin Breaux never doubted for a moment that he'd be where he is today, though the journey has been a roller coaster – from hot shot, to no shot, to long shot, to taking full advantage of this shot.
This shot has brought him to training camp with the Saints, and the doorstep of fulfilling a lifelong dream. And considering the odds he already has overcome in order to make the trip to The Greenbrier, a couple of more hurdles to clear don't seem all that daunting.