Since being founded in 1960, the Cowboys have selected a tight end in the first round of the annual NFL draft on only two occasions. Billy Joe DuPree was their top pick in 1973, and 24 years later, David LaFleur was chosen out of LSU.
"I was very excited, excited to be in Dallas and become part of a great organization," said LaFleur.
Playing behind Eric Bjornson as a rookie, LaFleur moved into the starting lineup in 1998. He nearly doubled the statistics of his first two years combined the following season when in addition to being a key blocker for Dallas' running game, he contributed 35 catches for 322 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns. What was the reason for the increased productivity?
"It was a fun year. It was my first year that I was healthy," LaFleur said. "I injured my back while I was in college and it progressively got worse the first couple of years. Then it finally got to the point where a disc ruptured and I had it repaired.
"And I had broken a leg along with it. During coaching sessions in the summer, I rolled my ankle and broke my fibula. So I had surgery and came back for the start of the season and stayed healthy all year and felt great. It was the first time my back had felt really good since early in my college career."
In addition to having to go through a variety of injuries, LaFleur also experienced a variety of head coaches, three in four years to be exact: Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo.
"I think it presented some challenges," said LaFleur. "Obviously, everybody brings their own style of football to the organization. The one that probably stood out the most was Coach Gailey because it was a little bit different than what was there. Coach Campo had been in the Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer era, so it was familiar. Chan Gailey kind of brought in his own brand, which was a little bit different than what we'd done the year before."
As unfortunate as it is, year in and year out, injuries play a role in the game of football. LaFleur knew that better than most.
After the "fun year" of 1999, he experienced disc problems in his lower back again, and also had to deal with a groin injury during the 2000 campaign. That led to him being placed on the physically unable to perform list. Prior to the 2001 season, he failed a physical and was released by Dallas.
"It was apparent that he was not going to be able to run," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "I think he gave us all he could give us. He was a warrior, he played hurt. When he was able to perform, he was very important to what we were trying to do."
"That's very pleasing," said LaFleur, who finished his career with 85 receptions for 729 yards and 12 touchdowns. "I hold the Jones family and Mr. Jones in very high regards and respect. It was unfortunate that I did have a bad back and wasn't able to perform at a higher level for them, but I certainly cherish those memories that I have with the organization."
These days LaFleur is involved with another organization, but ironically is still working with pain. He is a part-owner and the managing member of COL Management, a health care company based in his hometown of Lake Charles, La. [embedded_ad]
"We have 15 out-patient imaging facilities – MRI [Magnetic Resonance Imaging], CT [Computed Tomography], PET (Positron Emission Tomography)," LaFleur said. "We got our start in 1997 right after my rookie season. We opened up an out-patient imaging center and from there we rolled it out to Baton Rouge and then to where we are today. We're all over Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and in a couple of states [California and Oregon] on the West Coast.
"You get to meet a lot of great people. We work closely with the physicians and hospitals in each market that we're in. It's enjoyable because it's working with technology and you're doing something that you know is going to bring greater good to the community. A lot of our markets are in rural Mississippi or rural Alabama and they wouldn't have the service or technology if it wasn't for our business."