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NC State WR NaQuan Brown eager for one more year

Five years ago, NaQuan Brown put on his cap and gown, picked up his diploma and graduated from high school. Football, he likes to say, was placed on a "temporary stoppage."

His family needed him more.

With his mother struggling to find full-time work, Brown enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina, instead of pursuing his football career. Eventually he took a job in the hardware section at Wal-Mart. He, his mother and younger brother lived in a small apartment, where Brown was the primary bread-winner while his mom hunted for jobs.

“I was humbled, basically, because this is my family so I knew family’s first,” he said. “I was very positive about it all.”

Brown never gave up on football, though. He worked full eight-hour shifts and used financial aid from college to get his family on more secure footing so one day he could try to pick the sport back up again. He thought he had it made in 2012, when he was all set to go to West Virginia.

But he had no degree. So he had to go back to community college and start looking for a landing spot all over again. He saw an opportunity at NC State. It was a long shot, but Brown was already the longest of long shots. Not only had he spent years away from football, he had also played only one year as a receiver in high school.

He knew he had talent, though, so he called NC State to find out about walk-on tryouts. Usually, 30-50 people show up for a chance to make the team. Brown was one of two players the Wolfpack decided to add to the roster. What he did not know then was he had only one year of eligibility remaining. Though he had never played a down of college football, his eligibility clock began ticking the moment he enrolled at community college.

Undeterred, Brown worked hard, moving up from practice squad to travel team. He got his big shot against Louisville last season, when the Wolfpack's top receiver was suspended. He played 35 snaps and caught one pass.

“That was my breakthrough game,” he said. “I’m pretty sure those guys remember my name.”

Maybe it would have been a breakthrough, but he broke his ankle with 30 seconds left in the game. His football career appeared to be over, but Brown didn't quit, telling coach Dave Doeren, “I’ll be back.”

But how?

Brown, now 23, was ineligible for a medical hardship waiver because he had played in too many games, but he discovered he could apply for a family hardship waiver because he put his football career on hold to help his mother.

Talk about the longest of long shots.

“At first, people didn’t think I was going to get it,” Brown said. “They were doubting me, telling me I had a 1 percent chance of getting it and stuff like that. Well, it was worth a shot. I kept the faith, kept going to practice, kept going to rehab, even though technically I was ineligible. People were looking at me crazy, but I knew I was going to get it.”

The process was complicated. Brown had to submit documentation that showed financial hardship, including W-2 forms and timelines that showed breaks in his mom’s working career after she lost her job.

“I said, ‘You need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.’” Doeren said. “We really didn’t know. A lot of times you look for precedent, and there wasn’t a case like this. We were hoping they’d see why, from a common-sense standpoint, it was the right thing to do. He’s not on scholarship; he’s had to work different jobs. He’s been through a lot. He’s just asking for another year of college football. It’s a no-brainer when you look at what the story is really about.”

Brown had no other choice but to help his mom, Sharina, and his brother, Deshone. They did not have the best circumstances while the boys were growing up in Atlanta. At one point while NaQuan was in middle school, the family had to move into a shelter temporarily.

“It was kind of like making the decision as what are you going to do?” Sharina said in a phone interview. “I don’t have a choice but to go this route, and [the shelter] provided room and board that a child needs for survival. That was more important, making sure that they’re fed and they have a roof over their head. It was a nice place. It was clean; it was cozy, so that was the direction we went in, and it was still good for them.

“It taught us how to stay focused and stay positive no matter what situation you’re in. It makes you stronger. That time in my life helped us not to give up but to be determined. We appreciate life so much better.”

The family moved to Charlotte when Brown was a high school freshman. He was eventually able to head to NC State because his mother got work through a temp agency, and his brother started working and going to community college out of high school. Sharina now has steady work, so the family is in a much better financial situation.

NaQuan, though, got the best news of all a few weeks ago. The NCAA granted his waiver.

“You’ve never seen a happier kid in your life that day,” Doeren said.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” NaQuan said. “It was one of those things where it was like, 'What? Really? I can’t believe it!' I was stunned for a good 30 minutes, but that just motivated me even more.”

He is still not quite 100 percent yet after surgery on his ankle. But Doeren does not expect to get anything less than the NaQuan Brown he saw come on against Louisville. Though Brown remains a walk-on, he will have opportunities to contribute this year to a receiver group that is young and inexperienced.

“If he can return to who he was a year ago, he’ll have a chance to help us,” Doeren said. “He’s very athletic; he plays really hard. I know he’s going to be driven, so he’ll have a chance to help us for sure if he’s healthy.”

All those years away from football, never once did Brown see his responsibilities as a burden. He didn't end up helping only his mom and brother.

He ended up helping himself.