Wide receiver Manny Arceneaux of the Saskatchewan Roughriders spoke of the struggles and challenges he had in becoming a football player, as he gave the keynote address at the Farmer Appreciation Banquet on Tuesday evening at McKenna Hall, hosted by the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce.
He grew up in the town of Alexandria, Louisiana, and while he grew up throwing the ball around with his friends, he was told by coaches from Grade 7 on up into high school that he wasn’t big enough or good enough to play for the high school football team.
“Football kind of chose me, I didn’t choose it,” he began, noting he was told in Grade 7 that he wasn’t big enough to play.
As he continued to hear this year after year, all the way up to his Grade 11 year, it was discouraging as he wanted to play the game.
“When you’re told something too many times, you start believing it,” said Arceneaux, who noted things changed when he had a big growth spurt. A new coach came in for the football team around that time as well, and he finally got the chance to play for the high school.
In only his third game, he played a game on his birthday, and after making a big catch ended up having his forearm broken in the play.
“I thought, ‘man, I really can’t catch a break’,” said Arceneaux. The injury kept him out of action for a full year, and he didn’t play again until late in his senior year of high school. He did well when he was finally able to come back to play, and went on to a small college to play ball, the first one from his neighbourhood to attend college - and he did so with a four-year scholarship.
After college, he made his way to Canada, after initially not really knowing where it was, and he was signed by the B.C. Lions to a two-year deal.
He spent the first eight years of his CFL career with the B.C. Lions. The 31-year-old has played 129 games recording 556 receptions for 8,169 yards and 55 touchdowns. Arceneaux had three straight 1,000-yard seasons – including a career-high 1,566 yards in 2016 – from 2015-2017, and twice Arceneaux has been named a CFL all-star (2015 and 2016).
He had a brief stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins that included a memorable game versus the New Orleans Saints, but after getting cut, he found himself back north of the border where he was given the opportunity to come to Saskatchewan.
When he was called about coming to Saskatchewan, he said, "I thought this was the last team that would ever have me come play for them. They never forget a player who beats them, so they called. I just wanted one opportunity to come in and compete for a job," said Arceneaux.
"Coming here was one of the best things ever. I found out who I really was and what my purpose is," he added, saying he has total respect for the farmers in the room, as they work hard but can't control the weather, which has a big impact on their operations.
"I know it's hard, and it's hard to do the hard work," he said. A "true test" of his character was that he was assigned to help another player in his position to be better than him.
"I was blessed with the opportunity to play a game, and that's got me to where I am at. If anyone offers you an opportunity, just say yes," said Arceneaux.