Crawfish and football. In the small town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, home to Saints UDFA rookie WR and former LSU star Travin Dural; it's those two local staples of this community on the outskirts of metropolitan Lafayette in Southwestern Louisiana, that has for a lack of a better term --- put it "on the map".
Located deep, deep, deep within the heart of the French culture-rich Acadiana region of the state, a trip to Breaux Bridge is an experience that any tourist or devoted aficionado for the Cajun way of life, should partake in at least once in a lifetime.
From a wide variety of palate-pleasing Cajun and Creole eateries, to the pristine, "frozen in time" and historically-preserved downtown district filled with a figurative 'avenue' of antiques and boutiques, Breaux Bridge beckons to both the common traveler as well as the curious thrill-seeker.
Just a few miles from that spot, lies a stretch of bayous littered with moss-covered cypress trees and an overflowing abundance of wildlife that surround nearby Lake Martin --- making Breaux Bridge both an all-out physical and mental assault on the human senses, all at one spectacular time.
It's also a place where food and sport both reign supreme.
For those who have previously had the experience of visiting this town in St. Martin Parish of approximately 8200 residents, it will come as no surprise that the official symbol of Breaux Bridge is the crawfish: the undisputed number #1 ranked consumed crustacean / seafood item available state-wide in all of Louisiana, for those who make seafood a regular part of their eating or dietary habits on a semi-weekly basis.
As you arrive in town off the I-10 exit, an over-sized vermilion-colored (scarlet red, to indicate it was boiled) painting of a crawfish welcomes you to the city limits, and it's in Breaux Bridge -- known as the "Crawfish Capital of the World" -- where the locals prepare crawfish in just about any possible way that it can be prepared: boiled, smothered, and fried.
You haven't really been to Breaux Bridge, if you've never at least tried a large fried crawfish Po-Boy from Poche's Market, or sat down and had a plate of crawfish etoufee from the classical French-Cajun restaurant Chez Jacqueline.
Each May (and just a few weeks ago, actually), it's the community's love affair with the "mudbug" which is the reason why the famous annual celebration held every year known as the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival; has now blossomed into a world-wide sensation among culinary enthusiasts.
It's right there at the Festival itself where a 'Crawfish Queen' is first chosen and then crowned (and treated) as royalty, as she is paraded through the town’s streets.
However -- if crawfish is the proverbial "queen" of Breaux Bridge, then there's absolutely no mistaking just who (or what) the "king" of Breaux Bridge life is: the sport of football.
And it's because football is king in Breaux Bridge on Friday Nights (and sometimes on Thursdays or Saturdays) that several players throughout the community's official 158-year history who were born and bred there, went on to enjoy fame at various levels of recognition.
Perhaps no player was more famous that native son Jake Delhomme, who played at nearby Teurlings Catholic High School in the early 1990's and then went on to star with the local area's biggest college, the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette); but went undrafted in the 1997 NFL Draft before he was signed a few days later by the home-state NFL team New Orleans Saints.
After making a name for himself in NFL Europe, it was the Saints who eventually made Delhomme their primary back-up QB in 2002, where he was able to shine in limited action behind then-Saints starting QB Aaron Brooks -- until he left for the Carolina Panthers in 2003 NFL Free Agency.
Delhomme would go on to lead the Panthers to a Super Bowl that year, where they ultimately lost 32-29 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Delhomme would play 8 more seasons in the NFL after that, before retiring after the 2011 season.
But it was that appearance in the Super Bowl 14 years ago by Delhomme which was the last time that folks in the Breaux Bridge community were brimming with excitement over "one of their own" representing the area in such a substantial way.
Well, at least until now, that is.
It was right after the end of the recent 2017 NFL Draft 2 months ago now, that the home-state NFL team New Orleans Saints once again announced that they had signed another one of Breaux Bridge's very own: former Breaux Bridge High School star and LSU wide receiver Travin Dural, as one of their 12 undrafted free-agents.
For Saints fans that also happen to be LSU fans, the signing of Dural has drawn hearty praise especially from those who are indigenous and live throughout all of the entire south Louisiana region, given the Saints' recent history of seemingly avoiding LSU players --- despite them being one of the top universities in the nation for producing a wealth of NFL-caliber talent on a yearly basis.
Dural was a standout wide receiver and return specialist at Breaux Bridge High, where he also was a vital part of the Tigers track and field team as a sprinter.
In fact, Dural broke the school record time of 21.5 seconds and won the state championship in the 200-yard dash at the LHSAA Track and Field Relays as a senior; and while doing so broke the record held previously by his own father: former Breaux Bridge High and ULL star Troy Clement. Dural would also win the state championship in the long jump, during that same event.
Dural also earned All-State honors for the Breaux Bridge High football program, where as a senior in 2011, he had 42 receptions for 902 yards and a whopping 19 TD receptions (yes, 19).
Dural's high school career with the Tigers eventually came to an end in the 2011 LHSAA Class 4-A semifinals with a loss to Neville, and his future fellow LSU wide receiver and teammate John Diarse.
Dural was considered a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, and was recognized as the top-rated receiver in LSU's 2012 signing class. But injuries prevented Dural from reaching his full potential at LSU, almost immediately after he arrived on the Baton Rouge campus.
Dural missed his freshman season in 2012, due to a torn meniscus. He returned from the injury in 2013; and in his redshirt freshman season while playing behind starters Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Dural appeared in 12 total games, but only caught 7 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns on the year.
Dural finally got his chance to start for the Tigers in his sophomore season of 2014, where he played in 12 games, recording 37 receptions for 758 yards and seven touchdowns. He considered entering the 2015 NFL Draft, but decided to return for his junior season in 2015 --- when yet another injury cut his season short.
Dural suffered a severe hamstring injury in November of 2015 when his hamstring literally "popped off the bone" during a play against SEC West rival Ole Miss, and the injury ultimately hampered his capabilities during his 2016 senior season; in which he played in 11 games with 9 starts and finished with 28 receptions for 280 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-1, 202 pound Dural ended his college career with exactly 100 career receptions at LSU, totaling 1,716 yards receiving and 13 receiving touchdowns.
However, it would be more than accurate to say that those injuries, along with some notably inconsistent play from the quarterbacks under center for LSU at the time and additionally some occasional issues that he experienced with cleanly catching the ball (a.k.a., "the dropsies") --- clearly prevented Dural from reaching his full potential and becoming the player that many expected he would.
But beginning in over a month from now, Dural will get a "fresh start"; as the Saints report for Training Camp in the final week of July and officially begin preparing for the Pre-Season and eventually the start of the regular season at Minnesota against the Vikings on Monday Night Football on September 11th.
The question that's currently on everyone's mind now, from Breaux Bridge to Baton Rouge and headed on down towards NOLA, as well as 'all points in between' is:
Can the "Pride of Breaux Bridge" make the Saints Final-53 man roster?
That remains to be seen, as the 23-year old rookie will be engaged in a heated battle with a handful of other players for what likely will be the team's 5th and final WR spot; which probably won't be decided until the final cut-down after the 4th and final Pre-Season game on August 31st against the Baltimore Ravens.
If one were to rate his chances, it's probably safe to say at this point that he's a "long shot"; but nevertheless, he WILL get an opportunity to prove himself -- which is all that any undrafted rookie can hope for.
One thing for certain is that the Saints aren't adverse to giving undrafted rookies the chance to show what they can do, a fact that names like former RB Pierre Thomas and current #2 WR Willie Snead are a testament to.
Dural has already drawn the praise of head coach Sean Payton, who told reporters at Mini-Camp last week that he didn't see any lingering signs of the injuries that he suffered at LSU; and that he seems to have transitioned well so far in making the "step up" that's required to play at the professional level.
If nothing else, a solid if not spectacular performance in Training Camp and the Pre-Season could help Dural secure a spot on the Saints Practice Squad, where he could possibly earn future opportunities to make the roster depending on the status of the Saints WR position in the upcoming months ahead.
For now, the "Pride of Breaux Bridge" is enjoying some time off with his new Saints teammates before they report for Training Camp, and one would imagine that if he hasn't already, that Dural will make the drive up the I-10 and back over to his old stomping grounds; in the little town that is still behind him every step of the way -- as they've always been.
Playing close to home was his primary reason for signing with the Saints, and his goal is to be able to say he had the opportunity to play all 3 levels -- high school, college, and the NFL -- in front of every single one of the 'home folks', and in front of all of those people whom have supported him from the very beginning.
"That was the best opportunity for me to make the roster, along with playing for my home state with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. That was something I couldn't pass on", Dural told reporters last month.
In just a little more than 2 months from now, the "Pride of Breaux Bridge" is hoping that the Saints, don't pass on him.........