A.L. Brown football: Louis an inspiration to teammates
By Bret Strelow
KANNAPOLIS ó A.L. Brown players changed into workout clothing as Artrele Louis, his broad shoulders concealed by a gray sweatshirt and backpack straps, entered the locker room Tuesday afternoon.
An assistant coach hugged Louis as he stood near the doorway; a teammate patted him on the back moments later.
The Wonders (13-2) are preparing to face Greensboro Dudley (15-0) in the 3AA state championship game Saturday, and three running backs have split carries for A.L. Brown this season.
Louis hasn’t played as a senior, but people within the program remain inspired by and appreciative of his unwavering presence. Unable to compete following the discovery of a career-threatening spinal condition late last year, he still attends practices and participates in pregame coin tosses.
“I didn’t want to stop coming just because I can’t play,” Louis said. “That’d be real selfish of me. I love football, and I love everybody in here. I’ve been playing with them for three years, so I wasn’t going to stop coming.”
Louis rushed for 943 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last season, which included a three-carry, 242-yard performance against Piedmont. He was nominated for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in June.
Some doctors weren’t comfortable medically clearing Louis as the prep season approached, and his unavailability altered the look of A.L. Brown’s backfield.
Quarterback Jamill Lott has rushed for a team-leading 1,072 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior Johnathan Williams, junior Antwoine Jordan and sophomore Travis Riley have combined for 1,772 yards and 25 scores on the ground.
“It’s been hard, but Artrele’s been with us the whole time, letting us know to never stop pushing or working hard,” Williams said. “Nobody’s bigger than the team, so he’s always reminding us to run as hard as we can when our number’s called and to give credit to the O-line.
“How hard he still works even though he can’t play, that lets us see how much he wanted to play. We respect him for that, and we play hard for him.”
Williams, Jordan and Riley have different strengths.
n Williams, who made a 43-yard reception on A.L. Brown’s first offensive play in a 30-14 state semifinal victory against Kings Mountain, brings athleticism and versatility. He has rushed for 713 yards and seven touchdowns.
n The 5-foot-6 Jordan, who has registered 696 yards and nine touchdowns, is a hard-nosed runner known for giving maximum effort. Nine of his 10 carries against Kings Mountain came in the second half, when he scored an insurance TD. He finished with 51 yards.
n Riley, a jayvee call-up who weighs 200 pounds, is a bruising back who scored A.L. Brown’s first touchdown against Kings Mountain but sustained an injury that makes his status for the state final uncertain. He has rushed for 363 yards and nine touchdowns despite accumulating a total of 19 carries for 87 yards in the Wonders’ first nine games.
“We’ve been fortunate,” position coach Scott Jordan said. “Out of three backs, one has been hot. They’ve had different games where one guy’s feeling it, and it pertains to their running style with how the defense is.
“The offensive line likes blocking for them because they all run the ball hard. They’re not ‘me’ guys. All year long we’ve talked about getting behind the big bodies and running to daylight.”
Louis found it throughout his junior season, and he looks forward to continuing his career as a standout sprinter in the spring.
A college football prospect prior to the injury, he said he holds out hope of playing again.
“He’s the heart of our team,” A.L. Brown head coach Ron Massey said. “Other guys look at him and realize they’re thankful to be out there.
“They all respect him and love him. They’d all tell you they like what they’re doing, but if they could have him out there, they’d give up something of theirs.”