RALEIGH One year ago, Stephen Louis watched NC State pull off a third straight win to start the season at Old Dominion. Two shoulder injuries one to each shoulder caused Louis to watch on as he recovered, redshirting an entire season.Rehabbing to get back on the field was nothing compared to having to sit on the sidelines as a spectator.”The most difficult part was probably watching football,” Louis said. “Since I started playing football when I was seven, I never actually had to just watch football without being able to play. So sitting out a whole season was pretty tough for me.”But I had to support my team, that’s what kept me up the whole time.”Louis’ hard work has paid off already this season. Despite the 33-30 loss in Greenville, Louis put together the best game of his career against ECU, finishing with four receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown.Though he’s never shown that performance on the field, it was far from a surprise for his teammates.”I see that all the time,” fellow receiver Bra’Lon Cherry said. “It pretty much was nothing new, just actually in a game. But that’s just Steph. … He’s a playmaker just like the rest of us.”A year after going down with an injury of his own, Louis’ opportunity this season comes from another injury. Jumichael Ramos will miss the entire season for a knee injury, propelling Louis to the No. 2 spot alongside Cherry.Louis earned high remarks from coach Dave Doeren during the offseason, but recorded just one catch in the season opener. Wide receivers coach George McDonald said he finally saw Louis’ hard work pay off against ECU.”That was just a product of him having a great training camp,” McDonald said. “He’s had a whole year of rehabilitation from his injuries and got stronger. He’s been putting work in and hopefully he can continue to build on it.”Strength and conditioning coach Dantonio Burnette, better known as “Thunder,” worked with Louis to get him back on the field following the injuries. Now Louis has improved since his quiet freshman year both physically and mentally.”Coach Thunder and his staff did a great job of building up his body,” McDonald said. “But him getting a chance to step back has really developed his mind and helped him play the mental game a lot better.”The exclamation point for Louis’ breakout game was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Finley on the first play of NC State’s drive. Louis caught the pass at midfield, shed what appeared to be a sure tackle and sprinted toward the end zone.Recording the second touchdown of his collegiate career was a product of putting in offseason work with Ryan Finley. While the transfer quarterback from Boise State has only been with the team for mere months, Louis said the work began immediately.”Finley came in and started building chemistry with us right away,” Louis said. “During the summer we were catching balls with him and Jaylen [Samuels] almost every other day, on weekends. We went paintballing a lot and did a lot of offensive bonding stuff this summer. So it was really easy for him to come in and be a part of us.”Since he became the starter, Finley hasn’t been known for his down-the-field passing game. But with Louis, it looked natural. Finley made a pass to Louis 30 yards down the field look like an extended handoff.The 80-yard touchdown alone was more yards than his entire career (72) before the start of the season. Though his family couldn’t make the trip up to Greenville for Louis’ breakout, they were watching at home. Knowing that he made them proud meant more after the game than his performance.”It was a great moment, and it was even better because my whole family got to watch the game,” Louis said. “I knew they were watching, so that made me even more excited. … They were really proud of me.”The best part of the touchdown?”They pronounced my name right,” Louis said with a smile.If he continues to post numbers like he has to start the year, Louis’ name won’t be mispronounced much longer.
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