Will Patrick knows exactly the moment he figured out Louisa County was onto something this year. The 2002 Louisa graduate who’s been the squad’s offensive coordinator for years just knew.
“We had an epiphany at camp, we just had probably the best camp that I’ve ever been a part of with a team here,” Patrick said. “We knew we had something special.”
He also knew that with head coach Mark Fischer’s health concerns, he had one of the most unique challenges for an assistant coach in local football ahead of him. Help push a loaded Louisa squad with all the right pieces coming into place to its full potential while serving not just as coordinator, but, as Fischer puts it, another head coach just with a different title.
“He means everything to me,” Fischer said. “Not just Xs and Os but what he does day-in and day-out for our program. Me being out and being sick and not being able to do certain things, Will has picked up the ball and run with it. Just so many things that nobody knows about or understands. He’s the catalyst behind this whole team, without him we wouldn’t be here.”
Here, as it turns out, is the 2017 Class 4 state title game against Salem at William & Mary Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Over the last 10 years in Central Virginia, we’ve seen some pretty special football coaching partnerships. Two of them helped vault local programs to VHSL state titles. In 2007, Monticello’s Brud Bicknell and his top lieutenant and defensive coordinator Tom Sutliff (still working together up at Patriot High today) won a championship with the Mustangs. In 2012, Goochland’s Joe Fowler and his right-hand man and defensive coordinator Dan Summitt (still working together with the Bulldogs) won a title in 2012.
But those two tandems got to work alongside each other essentially every single day. With Fischer in treatment for complications from cancer, Patrick has often, with the help of the rest of the Lions’ staff, had to carry on without Fischer there beside him. Whether it’s practice or film or meetings or whatever the program needs, Patrick has been there, extending well beyond his play-calling and coordinator duties and filling in for Fischer.
“In front of these kids he battles adversity every day and that’s a life lesson that the cards you’re dealt, sometimes you’ve got to play them and make the most out of it,” Patrick said. “I’ve got coach’s back and I try and run it as best as possible and make him proud. I’ve learned a lot from him and he’s been a great mentor to me. Just like the players, none of us want to let him down.”
He’s put his own stamp on some things, expanding the Lions’ offensive repertoire beyond the squad’s classic single wing approach over the past few years into a multiple, versatile monster that still maintains that smashmouth spirit that’s a calling card for a Fischer-led squad. He’s played a huge role in the development of Malik Bell from classic single wing signal-caller to an absolute force at quarterback who’s accounted for 1,577 yards on the ground and another 820 yards through the air.
“He’s really stepped up, he’s with us in and out of school and when coach Fischer can’t be there, coach Patrick is right behind us,” Bell said. “He’s a good mentor to me because I know what he’s looking for on the field and he knows what I can do on the field.”
He’s even given the traditionally conservative Lions an added inventiveness, some unpredictable wrinkles. Like the double pass from Bell to Jarrett Hunter to Mark Carter that went for a touchdown against Orange? All Patrick.
“When he called it I was like ‘you know, we can run it in, we can run it in’ but he called it and that thing was just beautiful,” Fischer said after the Orange win. “I was like, great call dude, I’d have never done it, I wouldn’t have had the guts to do that, it was beautiful.”
There’s a trust between Fischer and Patrick that’s a hallmark of those other great partnerships Central Virginia seen, but this one has been tested in different ways than those. It has been forged in the fire of challenge and circumstance and, at times, absence. But that has made this 2017 run, this 2017 team that much sweeter. Sweeter, but not yet completely satisfying.
“I don’t even have words right now, I’m so happy and I’m so excited,” Patrick said in the aftermath of the state semifinal win over Lafayette. “But I want to go out there, I want one more win.”
That last game, that last potential win is all that’s left for the formal part of this partnership with Fischer’s impending retirement. And for this year, for this team, that’s all both of them ever wanted.