Alouettes' first exhibition game could be career-defining for Deandre Reaves

LENNOXVILLE — There was a brief moment, before he was about to enter his senior season at Marshall University, Deandre Reaves contemplated quitting football, concentrating instead on his education.

Then he quickly realized he could continue that after completing his career.

I ended up making the right decision, he said.

And how.

The diminutive 5-foot-9, 185-pound wide-receiver was the 2015 Conference USA special teams player of the year. He was a first-team all-conference kick returner, a second-team punt-return all-star, the teams most valuable player and the Herds offensive MVP. That season, he also caught a career-high 56 passes for 705 yards, scoring four touchdowns, helping Marshall following the exit of slotback Tommy Shuler.

And now the 25-year-old is attempting to stick with the Alouettes out of training camp following his release by the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers last September. Reaves survived the opening week of training camp, but realizes Thursdays exhibition game at Toronto could ultimately dictate his Canadian Football League future.

Itll probably be the most important game of my career, he said following Monday mornings practice at Bishops University. This is going to be my first opportunity to show what I can do with the ball in my hands.

Theres no doubt Reaves departed Marshall with some impressive credentials. He set a school single-game record in kick-return yards, with 221. He also holds school records for career kickoff return yards (2,548) and average (27.7 yards) on 92 returns. He scored three touchdowns.

Undrafted, Reaves had offers from San Diego and Cincinnati, ultimately deciding on the Chargers. He made it to the final cut before being released.

He and former Buffalo Bill T.J. Graham were recruited to bring more explosive playmaking options to the Als offence, according to general manager Kavis Reed.

Hes explosive with game-changing speed. And hes versatile, Reed said. Hes an accomplished returner. Hes in the playmaker class and can project to be an elite playmaker with some time.

While the Als, predictably, have a plethora of receivers at camp, and it might be difficult for Reaves to dislodge one of the veterans, he could ultimately make it as a backup to returner Stefan Logan. The Als certainly require an option should Logan get injured.

Through more than a week of camp, the one thing about Reaves that has jumped out to head coach Jacques Chapdelaine is the players speed. But like many rookies Reaves, at times, has struggled with the Als complex playbook.

As Reaves explained, due to the motion in the CFL, plays are more complex and he has more to remember. Some players will be in motion before the balls snapped while others are not. Its a lot to comprehend.

He has impressed us as a returner, Chapdelaine said. Hes got some good skills as a receiver. But perhaps coming out of college, where the system wasnt as complex, the learning curve has been steeper.

Having said that, hes got some things you just cant coach. Speed is one of them. Were hoping things fall into place for him. Were willing to be patient.

Although he attended Marshall, the same school as former Als quarterback Rakeem Cato, Reaves said he never spoke to him about coming to the CFL. Instead, he had conversations with former British Columbia linebacker Alex Bazzie, now in the NFL.

Youre thinking theres all that room. I can just go out there and run, Reaves said. But these defensive guys are athletic too. Its harder than it looks. But its a fun game.

Reaves is uncertain how much hell play against the Argonauts. But when hes on the field, he knows he must get into the right spots, be in the quarterbacks line of vision and, once he gets the ball, make something happen.

I have this opportunity now. Lets take full advantage of it, said Reaves, who has a degree in business marketing. My senior year led me to where I am now.

Im happy with my first week. I just have to keep going at it, studying the playbook. Just keep showing I can make plays when my numbers called and make something happen.

Notes — Defensive-back Ryan Phillips, who joined the Als as a free-agent from the Lions, is one of many players suffering from hamstring injuries. Not only will Phillips not play against Toronto, he went to Montreal on Monday for an MRI. Chapdelaine believes the injurys not serious.

Canadian receivers Samuel Giguère and Alex Charette also are suffering from the same lower-body injury and wont play. Giguères injury has opened the door for non-import Devon Bailey, who joined the Als as a free agent from Edmonton.

Import receiver Tavon Gatlin has been released while import defensive-tackle Daniel Awoleke will make his debut on Tuesday. He played collegiately for the University of South Florida.

The Als could have an interest in non-import defensive-back Mikael Charland, who was released on Monday by Ottawa. The 25-year-old, who played collegiately at Concordia, is 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds. He was selected 16th overall by the Redblacks in 2016, but a groin injury limited him to three games as a rookie.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

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