METAIRIE, La. (AP) Nearly nine years after breaking his neck in a high school football game, New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux is finally on the brink of breaking up passes in a regular season NFL game.
Breaux's signing by the Saints about seven months ago initially represented little more than a feel-good story about a New Orleans native finally being given a shot to realize his NFL dreams in his home town.
Now it appears Breaux, who turns 26 next month, will be starting New Orleans' regular season opener in Arizona on Sunday because of a hip injury that has kept Keenan Lewis from practicing this week.
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Breaux, whose laid-back disposition personifies his home town's ''Big Easy'' moniker, said he is humbled by the opportunity, but not at all overwhelmed.
''No pressure at all. This is what I do. I play football,'' a smiling Breaux offered casually. ''I don't want to add pressure to myself. I know I have a lot of people pulling for me, but I just have to go out there and play one play at a time and just stay confident.''
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Breaux was a coveted LSU recruit, but never got to play in college. He enrolled and nearly has enough credits to graduate - something he still intends to do - but was never cleared by school physicians to play.
Instead, he spent his college days playing intramural flag football before finally trying out for a semi-pro football team - the Louisiana Bayou Vipers in Baton Rouge - in 2012. From there, he moved first to the Arena Football League and then to the CFL, spending the past two seasons with Hamilton.
On Sunday, he will be on the same field as two players - Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson - who probably would have been his teammates at LSU. Mathieu, also a New Orleans native, recalled this week his memories of Breaux as a high school player.
''Had he not hurt his neck, he would have been in the same conversation as Patrick Peterson because they did have some of the same physical tools,'' Mathieu said. ''He was big, strong and fast. And before he hurt his neck, he just completely dominated high school receivers in New Orleans.
''I'm extremely proud of him and happy for him,'' Mathieu said. ''I know he's been dying for this moment for so long.''
Breaux said he fully believed in high school that he would one day be ''a top 10 pick'' in the NFL draft, so he doesn't sound that amazed by his own story, even as those around him are. He said once he was healthy enough to play again, he figured it was only a matter of time before he figured out a different route to fulfill his football goals
''I just knew something was going to happen. I just needed the break,'' Breaux said. ''''I pictured somebody taking a chance on me, just showing what I could do on film and locking down receivers.''
Saints third-year safety Kenny Vaccaro, a 2013 first-round draft choice, said Breaux didn't need very long to establish credibility as an NFL-caliber defensive back with fellow members of the Saints secondary.
''He's a starting-calibre cornerback,'' Vaccaroi said, emphasizing that Breaux's work during offseason practices and training camp routinely involved covering receivers like Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks while Drew Brees was throwing the ball. ''I haven't seen much weakness as far as his transition to the game. He's just real calm, collected. When the ball's in the air, there's no, like, panic. You'd think he's been here for like four or five years.''
Notes: In addition to Lewis, four other players did not participate in the part of practice open to media. They were linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (toe) and Davis Tull (shoulder); running back C.J. Spiller (knee) and safety Jairus Byrd (knee). Running back Tim Hightower returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice with knee soreness.
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