Unbelievable. That was the word Grambling’s Mario Louis used to describe the Tigers’ sudden turnaround in 2011 after starting the season 1-4 before rallying for five straight wins.
The same word can be used to describe Louis’ own rise as one of the best Southwestern Athletic Conference wide receivers.
Louis arrived on Grambling’s campus in the spring of 2007 merely as a student. A one-time basketball player at L.W. Higgins High School in Marrero, Louis thought his playing days were over.
For fun, Louis played intramural football at Grambling — thinking nothing of it. Well, the more Louis played, the more people suggested he try to walk on to the football team.
Louis recalls not even knowing if he could play football, because he had no previous experience, but he was encouraged by all the support from the people around him. Ultimately, he decided to try out.
Before he knew it, in the fall of 2009, Louis was a member of the football team.
With no high school background, Louis resorted, he said, to “a whole lot” of questions to help him with the learning curve.
“I was like a deer in headlights crossing the highway,” Louis said. “You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t understand terminology.”
Louis credits guys like Ryan Allen and members of the coaching staff who helped him with the transition — a transition Louis made look easy.
The 23-year-old has hauled in 45 catches for 967 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He leads the SWAC in yards per catch (21.5), touchdowns and is second in receiving yards behind Alabama State’s Nick Andrews.
Grambling coach Doug Williams wasn’t shy when talking about his senior playmaker.
“Just one of the most explosive players in black college football, for sure, and any college, to be honest with you,” Williams said. “Here’s a guy who, every week, he’s going to get the football.”
To say Louis is the go-to-guy for Grambling may itself be an understatement. Louis currently accounts for 39 percent of the entire team’s receptions, 53 percent of the team’s receiving yards and 70 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns.
Furthermore, Grambling’s second-leading receiver is Damian Jefferson, who has 12 catches for 208 yards and four touchdowns. Compare that to this: Louis had 211 receiving yards alone in a 29-25 win over Texas Southern on Nov. 12.
Louis’ quick jump to the top and raw ability reminds Williams of a former basketball player from a small school in Tennessee.
“I was scouting for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and I was in Montgomery, Ala., at the Blue-Gray Game,” Williams said. “There was a guy named Terrell Owens. He was the sixth man on his Chattanooga basketball team. Mario is the closest thing to Terrell, from what we’ve done and what he’s capable of doing.”
Louis said the Owens comparison is “a hell of a statement,” and that it would be an honor to play professionally. But he is focused on the task at hand, when Grambling plays Southern in the Bayou Classic on Saturday in New Orleans.
With a win, Grambling would claim the West division and land in the SWAC Championship Game on Dec. 10.
“We understand what’s at stake,” Louis said. “We understand that’s No. 1, and we have to take care of that first.”
Saturday will also be extra special for Louis. The game will give Louis’ friends and family from New Orleans the chance to see him play — not just follow what he’s been doing on the computer or from box scores.
The past few years have been an unexpected journey, but it’s a short journey Louis will never forget.
“Grambling taught me everything I know,” Louis said. “Grambling is everything to me. Grambling took me under my wing and made me who I am.”
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