It's a date that Wolfpack wide receiver NaQuan Brown will never forget. It's the day he thought that all that he'd dreamed of ... all that he'd worked for ... had come to a screeching halt. Little did he know that that date would end up marking a beginning instead of an end.
Brown was a latecomer to the game of football, not playing until his junior season at Charlotte's West Mecklenburg High School. He was a backup quarterback that year, but a move to wide receiver before his senior campaign proved to be a good one, as he saw instant success and even made the all-conference squad.
Brown immediately fell in love with the game and began to dream of taking his newfound talent to a bigger stage. However, he had one greater love: his family.
"At that time, I needed to work to help support my mother and my younger brother," Brown recalls. "I went to community college and started working. I used some of my financial aid to help my family."
Brown took a job at a local Wal-Mart in the hardware department and spent his days mixing paint and helping customers as a full-time employee. Two days a week he took classes. And every day, either in the early morning or late at night, he would work out relentlessly.
"I just kept visualizing myself playing football and that gave me the strength to do it. I knew I was D-1 athletic, so I just kept saying `I'm not going to worry about it. Down the line I'll have the opportunity.'" What Brown didn't know at the time, was that the minute he enrolled in community college, a clock had started ticking. In 2014, when he enrolled at NC State and went through a walk-on tryout with Dave Doeren's program, he thought he had a whole career in front of him.
"I knew I would make the team," he continues. "Once I made it, my position coach said, `Where have you been? You've only got one year of eligibility left!' I was shocked, but decided I would make the best of it and grind and do whatever the coaches needed me to do. "
Brown saw spotty action early in the season: one snap in the opener, three at South Florida, eight versus Presbyterian and then sat the bench for all but one play in the first three ACC contests.
Then came the Louisville game -- the eighth game of the year. One of the Wolfpack's top receivers was suspended and it was finally Brown's time. He caught his first collegiate pass and was the intended target for a couple more. He felt that he had finally broken into the WR rotation, as he saw action for 35 snaps from scrimmage -- more than some of the regular starters.
"I knew I would play from that point on," he says.
But on that 35th snap, with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, he suffered a dislocated ankle. As he was carted off the field and was later told his season was over, his only thought was "that was quick."
Brown attacked his rehab with his habitual tenacity and was recognized with the other 2014 seniors on Senior Day. The season ended, but he didn't go anywhere.
"Something kept telling me, 'it's not over.' I started doing some research online about guys who had gotten an extra year. I read a lot about it and finally saw something that said `Family Hardship' could be a factor into getting a year back.
"I talked to my mom about it and we went to the compliance people and talked to them about the circumstances that had forced me to put my football career on hold after high school. They told me not to get my hopes up, but said if there was a chance, I wanted to take it. "
Brown attended every single position and team meeting during 2015 spring practice, even though his eligibility was exhausted. It seemed that every time the Murphy Center doors opened, he was already there. At times, he may have been the only person in the building who truly believed that he would be granted another year of eligibility, but he kept working as if it was a done deal.
On Tuesday, as he was walking up the hill to the College Inn after his second day of summer school classes, some of the football staff rode by and saw him.
"They started yelling, `Hey NaQuan! Have you heard? They granted your extra year!' I told them to stop messing with me. It was like a dream or something."
And it was ... a dream come true.
"I've got this chance and I'm going to do everything I can to make it worth it," he says.
Brown credits Michelle Lee from the NC State compliance office for helping him throughout the process of requesting an extra year and says that the support of the coaching staff was invaluable.
"Ms. Lee helped me and my mom understand the process and took a lot of time with us. Coach Doeren has encouraged and supported me since the minute I became a member of this team. That also drives me to make this last year count."
Brown says that the work he has put in to arrive at this point has given him an appreciation for the game of football. "I have so much love for the game and for this team," he says. "It was worth the struggle."