Photos of Delvin Breaux from the 2015 Season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)
Now, this is a football story.
Not that Delvin Breaux's journey didn't have a football backdrop. But his remarkable journey to the NFL – which included stops in the Gridiron Developmental Football League, the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League – always took a back seat to the more remarkable fact that he broke his neck as a high school senior (after committing to play football at LSU), had surgery and never played college football.
Thus, the game always had been the white noise in the background, and justifiably so, in the now well-known narrative of the Saints cornerback.
The fact that the New Orleans native got a tryout with the Saints and made good – the team wanted to make sure he didn't make another visit to try out, so impressed was it with the package that Breaux presented – was a few rungs down the ladder from the surgical scar that runs down the back of his neck.
And Breaux knows that his story always will be a significant reference point.
"My story is always going to stick with me," he said. "That's just who I am and what happened. But I re-watched the story, just to see how far I've come. I just think it's inspiring and I'm going to continue to keep playing and giving my all when I'm out there."
The latter – the "continue to keep playing and giving my all when I'm out there" – is why this has become a football story. Because Breaux, by all accounts, is a rising force in the secondary, a player that checks almost all of the boxes when it comes to what a team is looking for in a cornerback, on and off the field.
Able to play man-to-man? Check?
Press coverage? Check.
Zone coverage? Check.
Run supporter? Check.
Fabulous teammate? Check.
Fantastic in the community? Check.
Pro Bowl potential? Triple check.
Breaux will enter his second season with a firm grip on being the Saints' No. 1 cornerback. After a first season in which he led New Orleans in interceptions (three) and passes defensed (23), in which he made the adjustment from CFL to NFL and tirelessly worked to eliminate his penalties by the end of the season (he finished with nine accepted, two declined), in which he served as the Saints' counter to opposing No. 1 receivers when the secondary manned up, everyone is expecting more.
"Just being stronger mentally out there, because things are happening (and) you want to be able to just get back to the next play and play that play," he said. "I would say it's easier now, just because I'm in a system, I know the speed of the game, I know how things are going to play out.
"I know I can do it now. It's pretty cool, I just get out there and get the flow of the game and we play.
"I look at last year, I thought I had an OK season. There were some plays that I knew I could have made that didn't happen. But this year, it's like, I will make those plays. I just have to continue to keep honing my skills and they're going to come. It's Year 2 now, so I have to go out there and make a stand for myself. I have to go out there and play within the defense, just play my game and make my plays and we're going to go from there.
"I worked on my zone coverage schemes a little bit more (in the offseason) and sticking with my man. Because that's what coach says we're going to do, (so) that's what we're going to do. So I wanted to hone on that and work on my zone skills."
If nothing, Breaux has been a quick study and eager student. But, more, he's been able to put into practice what he has and continues to learn, and has the talent to make a sizable impact.
"I think just the reps and nuances of playing that position in our league, on our field (is how he can grow)," Coach Sean Payton said. "I think a player like him is driven. I think you'll see a big jump.
"He's a player – I don't want to use the words that he 'kind of came in under the radar' – but I think his peers in this league, the people that watch enough tape, were able to see this guy's got size, strength, ball skills. Those types of things, the details of playing that position. And then the production, getting your hands on a play and coming up with the interception, maybe as opposed to the deflection."
Teammates old and new respect what Breaux has done, and will do. The winner of the team's Ed Block Courage Award last season, awarded annually to a player from each NFL team who has persevered through adversity, has proven to be much, much more than a curiosity.
"(Former Tampa Bay defensive back and current television analyst) Ronde Barber told me about (Breaux) last year," said Saints safety Roman Harper, who spent the previous two seasons with Carolina after playing with New Orleans his first eight NFL seasons. "I went out to dinner with him and two friends and he was like, 'I'm really impressed with this Delvin Breaux guy.'
"I'd heard about his story. I started really watching and paying attention to his tape. To see the growth and his maturity – he's so mature for the amount of years that he's played. He understands that the game is really starting to slow down for him. He's one of the best corners I've ever seen at the line of scrimmage. He's fast, he's huge, he's got great hand-eye coordination.
"He's got to continue to grow, he's got to continue to want it. You can't put a measurement on the amount of his love to compete. He competes to the end of the ball, to the end of the whistle. Every play, he does not let anybody catch the ball on him. It's amazing how great he is and how good his feet are, his patience at the line. I'm expecting really big things out of him as he continues to grow. Year 2 and 3 are going to be really big for him, but I'm sure he'll be one of those guys we talk about."
Cornerback P.J. Williams, who missed last season with an injury but could start at left cornerback this season, said Breaux has been a mentor.
"He had a great year last year and a lot of things he does, I do," Williams said. "And I want to do them a little better. He does a great job, especially with man-press coverage and stuff like that. I'm in his ear pretty much any chance I get. I like to be close to him, he teaches me a lot."
Breaux teaches, because he has learned.
The journey has been long, arduous, with a few Sinkhole de Mayo-sized potholes tossed in as deterrents. But it has reached the point where mainly, it's about football. Where, if all goes well, he could wind up as a decorated player.
"I've just got to keep working," Breaux said. "Those are nice words, but I know what I have to do to be a Pro Bowl cornerback."
Of course, he always will serve as an inspiration.
"It's something that can't really get away from," he said. "But I always tell (kids) never give up, always continue to keep fighting for your dreams. A lot people tell you, 'No,' a lot of people say you're not going to make it, a lot of people will say you're too small or too big. But you always have to be motivated, regardless of what somebody else says."
But it's about what happens on the field now. It's about staying motivated and hungry, traits that Breaux possesses.
"Me, coming from my journey, there was never a foot off the gas pedal," he said. "So I've always got to keep going, going, going until I retire and then I'll be like, 'Man, it's all said and done, I had a good run, I'm done, I can relax, I can finally sit back and watch other guys grow and play.' "