Resilient Athletes

Fighting for another chance to chase a dream


This ongoing photo series examines the ways the coronavirus pandemic has upended and reshaped athletes' lives.

Louis Cheneau Jr. thought his dreams of playing college football might be over when he suffered two knee injuries before the end of his senior season at Riverside Academy in Reserve, Louisiana. The 5-foot-8, 205-pound running back was able to keep his financial aid at Division III Louisiana College, but a long rehab and inexperience left him on the sideline as a freshman in 2019. He worked all winter to get into shape for his first spring practice season this March, only to see the opportunity end after three practices because of the COVID-19 outbreak. He returned home to LaPlace, Louisiana, to again train for a football season he can't be sure will happen.

Cheneau played his entire senior season at Riverside Academy with a torn meniscus in his right knee. He also tore the MCL in his left knee the spring of his junior year, and seriously doubted whether he'd play football again. "I was depressed, crying," he remembers. "I had to play my senior season. I didn't know if I was even going to college. I just had to leave it in God's hands. My mom always told me what God has for me, is for me." Courtesy of Louis Cheneau Jr.
Cheneau, 19, says he was offered preferred walk-on status at Division I programs Texas State and South Alabama, but decided to take the guaranteed aid at D-III Louisiana College instead. He was hoping this spring would offer a chance to prove he is fully healthy and ready to contribute in the fall.
Cheneau's first call after spring practices were canceled was to Norman Harrell, his independent trainer at home in LaPlace, who helped him rehab his knee injuries. Cheneau needed Harrell's help losing weight after being listed at 214 pounds last fall.
Harrell has swapped heavier strength exercises with increased-intensity workouts and added more cardio. A light-carbohydrate diet has also been crucial for Cheneau, who has already lost nine pounds and plans to lose at least 10 more. "I'm getting stronger and getting faster," Cheneau says. "I'm dropping weight at a faster rate than expected."
Cheneau entered spring practice looking for an opportunity to share the workload at running back with junior Markaylin Milburn. His ultimate goal is to become the first Wildcats back since 2016 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
"If I don't go into this season doing what I expect to do, I'm going to be very disappointed," Cheneau says. "My goal is to be a person that they need, somebody that needs to play."
There is a mantra that Cheneau and some of his friends live by: GOGA -- grind or get ate. "You're either gonna work hard or somebody is going to outwork you, and you're gonna be working 9 to 5 the rest of your life," he says. "I wanna play football."
Cheneau was just 4 years old when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. He moved with his family to St. Louis to live with his grandmother, Desiree Simms, and returned to New Orleans in 2006. The family later moved to LaPlace, where Cheneau's father, Louis Cheneau Sr., owns and operates a tractor-trailer tire repair business. Courtesy of Louis Cheneau Jr.
“You're either gonna work hard or somebody is going to outwork you, and you're gonna be working 9 to 5 the rest of your life. I wanna play football.”
Summer workouts in high school were fit in between trips to truck yards and out on the interstate with his father to make repairs in the hot Louisiana sun. "If I wasn't playing football, I don't know what I'd be doing," Louis Jr. says. "I'd probably still be fixing tires with my dad. Courtesy of Louis Cheneau Jr.
Cheneau says he admires his parents' work ethic, but wants to play the sport he loves as long as he can. "We've persisted a lot," Cheneau says of his family. "It's my mindset. I always tell myself I have a family to feed and people depending on me."
The hope of playing in the fall is Cheneau's greatest motivator. He hasn't been at his full potential since before his senior season at Riverside, and he's eager to showcase what he's capable of. "I have a lot of people counting on me," Cheneau says. "Everyone is telling me to do big things. I can't let those people down and I can't let myself down."
Written by Anthony Gulizia

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