Antony Auclair was surrounded by family as he watched the third and final day of the 2017 NFL Draft one year ago.
Based on pre-draft buzz, the tight end expected that he might hear his name called somewhere during the latter half of the day’s picks in Rounds 4-7.
Instead, Auclair spent the afternoon suctioned to his phone, fielding calls from team executives across the league before the draft came to an end, ultimately without the French-Canadian hearing his name called.
Auclair said that didn’t bother him, as going undrafted meant he would have the pick of his pathway to becoming the first player in the Laval Rouge et Or’s storied history to crack an NFL roster.
“The fact that I got to choose was really nice, and I think I took advantage of that,” Auclair says. It was during his second year as a member of the Rouge et Or in 2014 that Auclair, then a similar 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds as he is now, that he said he began to seriously consider the possibility of playing in the NFL.
I realized I had the size at that point and that it was just a matter of working hard.
In his final season of 2016, that interest began to come to fruition, when a scout from the Kansas City Chiefs made the trip to Laval to watch and evaluate Auclair – a first in the history of the Rouge et Or – according to head coach Glen Constantin.
During his final season, the Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Que., native caught 17 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns in eight regular season games, before leading all Laval pass catchers with six receptions, 70 yards and a touchdown in the team’s ninth Vanier Cup win over the Calgary Dinos to finish their year.
As well as his pass catching capabilities and his physical tools, it was Auclair’s run blocking ability that garnered NFL interest.
After the U SPORTS season, Auclair earned an invite to the 92nd edition of the East-West Shrine Game, the postseason college football all-star game played in St. Petersburg, Florida in January. Manitoba Bisons offensive lineman Geoff Gray played opposite Auclair for the West in the contest. Auclair was the sixth Rouge et Or player under head coach Glen Constantin to play for the East in the game.
Auclair’s spotlight moment in the Shrine Game came during a third-quarter play, when he hauled in an 18-yard reception and attempted to leap Fresno State defensive back Tyquwan Glass.
Then came Auclair’s pro day. Held about a month and a half before the NFL Draft, Auclair went through his workouts with a pulled hamstring.
“My numbers weren’t that good and from that moment I knew maybe there was a chance I wasn’t going to get drafted,” he says, looking back.
Auclair and his agent spent the final round of last year’s NFL Draft taking calls from teams – as many as 20 – who were interested in bringing him in for rookie minicamp. But it was Tampa Bay Buccanneers head coach Dirk Koetter that was the only bench boss to call him personally out of those teams.
I had a really good vibe with the Buccaneers and had a really good vibe when I visited there. So really that’s what made my decision.
“I had a really good vibe with the Buccaneers and had a really good vibe when I visited there,” Auclair says. “So really that’s what made my decision.”
Three days later Auclair was in Tampa Bay. Months later, in mid-July, he was one of 90 players at the start of Bucs training camp. His journey to cracking the team’s final roster, which included him serenading his teammates with the French rendition of O Canada, was followed partially in HBO’s annual NFL preseason documentary series Hard Knocks. In the season’s final episode of the season, after Auclair was told he made the Bucs' final roster, he was called to Koetter’s office, where they chat about his development and future as a player.
You’re a pro football player…You’re one of the best 1700 players in the world.
“You’re a pro football player…You’re one of the best 1700 players in the world,” Koetter tells Auclair in Hard Knocks. “Wow, pretty humbling.”
“When I found out I made the team I was so tired from the camp and all of the games, I couldn’t get emotional,” Auclair says with a laugh. “I was not realizing what was happening. I was happy for sure, but I was just like, ‘Alright,’ because I was so tired."
He says a more genuine moment of realization for him came in his debut in Week 5, against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
But the best game of his rookie campaign he says came against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15 on Monday Night Football. Auclair filled the role of fellow rookie tight end and first round draft selection O.J. Howard when he had to leave the game with an ankle injury. The former Laval star caught one pass for 14 yards in that game, which the Bucs lost 24-21 to the Falcons.
Auclair played in a total of eight games for the Bucs in his rookie NFL season. He also made sure not to lose track of his alma mater.
While in Florida or on the road, Auclair said he would FaceTime with his sister, who would aim her phone’s camera at the TV, so her brother could watch the games through the video call. Auclair’s younger brother Adam anchored Laval’s nation-best defense to win the U SPORTS Defensive Player of the Year this past season, which Laval lost in the Vanier Cup to the Western Mustangs.
The elder Auclair credits what he dubs as Laval’s “process” as partially responsible for where he’s at now, preparing for his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those are the best years of my life at Laval.
“I made the decision to go to Laval because I wanted to play with the best of the best. There’s a reason why Laval is on top every year – it’s because the process of training guys and all the workouts we do together,” Auclair says. “We are one of the only teams where all the players stick together in the summer and work out together. It’s one of the main reasons a lot of people get drafted (to the CFL) and that we’ve got a lot of Vanier Cups. The success of the team is really that process. The coaches preach that over the years. An example in me is that I followed the process.
“Those are the best years of my life at Laval.”
Charlie is a recent graduate of Carleton University's journalism program. He was an inaugural member of the U SPORTS' Correspondent Program and is also the editor for the Ottawa Sportspage with additional experience writing about athletics for The London Free Press, The Kingston Whig-Standard and The Sault Star. Sports have played an integral role in Charlie’s life. He believes involvement in team sports are invaluable for an individual's personal development off the field.
Follow Charlie on Twitter @CharliePinkerto