Growing up in the city featuring the team that has won the most Stanley Cups ever in what many consider the national sport, Bruno Labelle chose football.
He wasn't alone – LaBelle said in Montreal, there are the "hockey" guys and the "football" guys – but reaching his dream in the NFL was going to be more difficult because of it.
LaBelle has made it, at least this far. One of four undrafted rookies the Cardinals signed in May, LaBelle is hoping to break into a tight end room that has plenty of opportunity. The position's leading pass catcher, Dan Arnold, left in free agency. Veteran starter Maxx Williams and Darrell Daniels are back, but beyond that?
Ian Bunting and Ross Travis are two "veterans." Like LaBelle, Cary Angeline is an undrafted rookie. The most recognizable name is Bernhard Seikovits, and that's only because the Austrian received the spotlight for arriving in the NFL's international player program.
It was not surprising to hear coach Kliff Kingsbury say earlier this month "we will try to add depth there at some point."
Because LaBelle went to the University of Cincinnati, he's not considered an international player like Seikovits, although when he first arrived in college he needed to learn English after speaking French growing up.
That was after the hardest part of his journey, spending time during his years of prep school in Montreal (essentially grades 12 and 13) with three other fellow Montreal football hopefuls traveling to the United States for football camps at midwestern universities like Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana trying to get noticed by college coaches.
"My dream was to play professional football so that was the best route to take," LaBelle said.
One of the four got a scholarship to Fresno State. LaBelle earned one with the Bearcats. (It didn't work out for the other two friends.) And while LaBelle's dream was the NFL, it didn't feel as much of a possibility until he saw the Cincinnati tight end he was playing behind – Josiah Deguara – go in the third round to the Packers in the 2020 draft.
"I was mostly a blocking tight end, and those guys don't get high on draft boards, but I knew with my blocking skills and versatility I had a good shot (to be signed)," LaBelle said.
The path to the NFL from his area has had some trailblazers, whether it is Texans tight end Antony Auclair or Chiefs tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The Canadian Football League is an option if the NFL doesn't work out, but LaBelle is hoping to find a niche – perhaps be one of the young tight ends Kingsbury said he'd like to develop – with the Cardinals and make his dream come true.
"Good players can come out of Canada," he said.
Images from the Cardinals' cheerleader auditions in 2021