Braden River

Braden River's JoJo Louis faces Sarasota a year after career-threatening injury

EAST MANATEE -- It doesn't matter if music is blaring at practice or not, Braden River linebacker/defensive back JoJo Louis likes to bust out a slick dance move.

Don't be alarmed Pirate Nation, Louis isn't auditioning for the hit television show "Dancing with the Stars."

Rather, he's breaking the monotony that comes with a season-long grind.

"Aside from getting the play call, I just make sure I get somebody to laugh," the 6-foot, 190-pound Louis said. "Keep practice going, making sure everyone is tuned in so it won't be a drag."

That attitude is necessary for a guy that nearly had the game taken away ... forever.

As Braden River and Louis generated buzz with a fast start to the 2014 season, the Pirates encountered Sarasota -- Braden River's opponent this week -- on a Thursday night last October.

It was late in the fourth quarter when Louis, who had three interceptions with two returned for touchdowns to that point, tried making a play.

The outcome left him, his teammates, coaching staff and those in attendance stunned.

"Anytime they bring stretchers out and you see motionless limbs, that's never a good thing," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said.

Louis added: "It was scary. ... I might not be able to play football anymore. That hit me hard. I'm grateful I'm out here right now."

Louis, who was carted off in an ambulance and kept at Blake Medical Center for a few days, didn't suffer a career-ending injury.

Instead, he missed one game, kept rehabbing through a bye week and returned three weeks after the injury occurred against North Port.

"I was scared I was going to get injured again," Louis said. "Something's going to happen. Then coach talked to me and was like, 'Look, you're back for a reason. Play your game and have fun out there.'"

Getting over the initial trepidation, Louis kept flourishing as a ball-hawking playmaker for the Pirates. He added five more interceptions to tally a Manatee County-leading eight picks. He also recovered one fumble, forced another fumble and broke up four passes en route to the Pirates polishing off an unbeaten district title season -- both program firsts.

Consequently, Louis gained the eye of college recruiters, picking up offers from FIU and Tulane.

Over the summer, he chose FIU due, in part, to growing up in the Miami area until moving to Bradenton during his eighth-grade year.

This season, Louis is playing a hybrid role at linebacker and in the secondary on a menacing defense that is giving up 155.75 total yards of offense per game while snatching 21 takeaways and pitching three shutouts (7.5 average points per game allowed).

Louis has contributed two interceptions for 50 return yards, three pass breakups and 2.5 tackles for loss.

His Pirates are off to their second-straight 8-0 start. Not bad for a player that originally was caught in a logjam for playing time at Manatee, and didn't have the slightest notion that something special was forming out east.

"I didn't know this was going to happen," Louis said. "I just came out here to play football. I just love the game of football. At Manatee, I knew I wasn't going to get the playing time that I wanted."

That love for football, though, became an afterthought when Louis suffered the scary injury against this week's opponents, the Sailors, and woke up at the hospital with everyone surrounding him.

"The whole coaching staff, 30 players were there, athletic trainers, administrators and that's the one thing is we're a family here," Bradley said.