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Als' Beaulieu making the most of his opportunities

Als' Beaulieu making the most of his opportunities
Als' Beaulieu making the most of his opportunities

Jean-Christophe Beaulieu explains a drill to running back Isaac Lauzon and fellow fullbacks Oumar Touré, left, and Jean-Samuel Blanc, right, during Montreal Alouettes training camp at Bishop's University in Lennoxville on May 30, 2017. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

There are two things a Canadian Football League fullback requires — patience and a lack of ego.

“You don’t get the ball so often. When you do, you need to make something out of it. If you don’t, you won’t get the ball no more,” the Alouettes’ Jean-Christophe Beaulieu said Monday, following practice at Olympic Stadium.

“You need to be patient. You play in the shadow of everybody else. But I like the way they use me.”

Quietly, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Beaulieu has become the Als’ secret weapon on offence, generally providing the team with at least one productive play per game. Last Friday against Calgary, it was a 27-yard run in the second quarter, part of a six-play, 100-yard touchdown drive. On the next play, Darian Durant found B.J. Cunningham open for a 39-yard touchdown after a Stampeders defender fell.

Beaulieu, now in his fourth season with Montreal, has three carries for 40 yards. He also has caught two passes for 17 yards. The Trois-Rivières native hasn’t missed a game the last two seasons and, in 2015, scored his first, and only, professional touchdown, against Ottawa.

Als head coach Jacques Chapdelaine, who took over with six games remaining in 2016, made a commitment over the winter to have Beaulieu more involved in the offence, albeit slightly for now, believing the 27-year-old was gifted enough to develop into more than just a blocking back.

Beaulieu entered this season with career totals of 17 catches for 152 yards along with four carries for 13 yards. He might be the most-talented fullback the Als have had since Patrick Lavoie. The Als lost Lavoie to Ottawa in the 2013 expansion draft.

“We dedicated ourselves to making him a fullback. But you’re going to be a fullback that plays tight end, that can carry the ball,” Chapdelaine explained. “In some kind of way he’s morphing into another Rolly Lumbala (of B.C.). He’s a guy that can carry the ball. He’s a very athletic young man. Why not use that skill set?

“I saw things from him coming in here that I thought we could use. He’s becoming a legitimate threat.”

Beaulieu played collegiately at Sherbrooke. As a senior, he gained 55 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns, while catching four passes for 34 yards, scoring once.

But he also lost his passion for the game while playing for the Vert et Or, figuring he would concentrate on his studies while getting his degree in special education.

“I wasn’t having any fun playing,” he said. “It was the environment and the coaching.”

He heard from Als assistant coach André Bolduc, his old Sherbrooke head coach, days before the 2014 Canadian college draft. Bolduc said Montreal was interested, yet Beaulieu had to wait until the sixth round (49th overall) before being selected. Sixth-round draft picks generally don’t make it to the CFL or, if they do, don’t last long.

Beaulieu, in that regard, has defied the odds.

“When he got to college we noticed right away he was a dual threat. He could carry the ball and he was also a guy who could run great routes. He had such long strides and long arms,” said Als linebacker Nicolas Boulay, a former Sherbrooke teammate. “He could create separation off his cuts. I knew right away he was going to be a good player.

“He was a hard-working guy in college. He had some bad breaks with injuries and it probably wasn’t in his head to make it as a pro. But he’s a guy that definitely has talent. He’s a playmaker, an athlete. I think we should feed him the ball more often.”

Beaulieu has worked diligently at his craft, studying film or staying after practice. He knows, as a non-import fullback, he’s constantly walking a tightrope. He wants to provide management without excuses to seek alternatives in the backfield. And he hopes to continue flying under the radar.

“I think teams forget about me. Then I carry the ball and go for 27 yards,” he quipped. “All I wanted was an invite to show a team what I could do. Four years later, I’m right here.

“I think I’m getting better at studying the game, every aspect … special teams, offence. I want to be the best fullback in the league,” Beaulieu stated. “I want to be a great pass blocker and run blocker. I want to carry the ball and not drop any passes. I’m a perfectionist. That’s how I keep my job. I want to be perfect.”

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And Wednesday night, when the Als travel to Ottawa, Beaulieu will be blocking for Brandon Rutley, making his regular-season debut for the injured Tyrell Sutton.

Coming off a short week, Rutley knew he was destined to start this game. Any potential wavering Chapdelaine might have experienced became moot when Sutton suffered a calf contusion against Calgary. Now in his fifth season with the Als, Rutley knows and understands his role.

“I’m in shape and ready to go. This is my mentality. I’ve been doing this for three, four years now,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m not nervous or over-anxious. I’m ready to play. I understand my role. I always have.”

Meanwhile, boundary cornerback Jonathon Mincy, who missed two games with a concussion, practised with the starting defence on Monday. Given the circumstances, however, Chapdelaine said it’s only a 50/50 proposition he will play against the Redblacks.

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