MINERAL — A gleaming gold plate above Will Patrick’s locker at James Madison University was inscribed with his name and jersey number. Below that was his hometown: Louisa, Va.
Many of the highlights of Patrick’s playing days in Harrisonburg revolved around explaining exactly where home was.
Patrick was Louisa County High School’s starting quarterback before he graduated in 2002. He’s been coaching in the county for 10 years and spent the past two as longtime varsity head coach Mark Fischer’s offensive coordinator.
On Wednesday, Patrick was announced as Fischer’s replacement.
“They say you never want to be the man who follows the man, but I’m not scared of that,” Patrick said. “The tradition will continue.”
Battling cancer since 2012, Fischer announced in August that this season was his last. The Lions went on to win a program-record 14 contests before falling to Salem in the Class 4 state championship game.
With a gaggle of former players to his left, Fischer was in attendance in the LCHS library on Wednesday to offer his support for his longtime assistant.
“It’s easy to forget the days when a Mark Fischer football team was 3-7,” Fischer said. “What coach Patrick needs is time and support. He is the most knowledgeable football coach I’ve ever met.”
With Fischer pulled away by treatments, Patrick basically ran the team’s day-to-day affairs the past two years.
He tweaked the Lions’ single-wing offense two years ago, adding some spread concepts, and called the plays in each of the past two seasons, which resulted in 22 wins, two playoff berths and a state finals appearance.
This fall, Louisa’s offense averaged 349.6 rushing yards and 43.7 points a game.
“I’ve learned so much the past two years, from ordering equipment to handling the hallways,” said Patrick, adding that he will continue calling the plays. “We’re still going to run power and be physical. That’s Louisa football.”
The Lions ran a double-wing system when Patrick was quarterback. At JMU, he saw time on the defensive line before settling in at fullback on the Dukes’ 2004 team, which won the program’s first FCS national championship.
Will Patrick call the plays last season for Louisa’s offense, which averaged 349.6 rushing yards and 43.7 points a game.
Lessons learned on the playing field will continue to serve him daily, but not nearly as much as the knowledge gained from sharing the sideline with Fischer, who Patrick called his mentor.
“One of the biggest things he taught me was to have a plan for the plan,” said Patrick, who spent the 2013 season as former head coach Jon Meek’s offensive coordinator. “If things don’t go your way, have a backup plan. Control the things you can control, and nothing replaces hard work.”
Patrick and his staff – which he expects to remain intact – have no small task ahead of them replacing 18 starters, including one of the most prolific backfields in school history.
One player Patrick expects to take a large part in replacing that backfield is Jarrett Hunter, an undersized but shifty runner who will be a junior when the 2018 season rolls around.
“We know coach Patrick’s system, and we know his expectations,” Hunter said. “We know how dedicated he is to the team, and that just makes us work even harder.”
Dedication is not a question for the man who will lead the Lions into The Jungle for the foreseeable future.
“Growing up here and playing here, I wore the green and gold every day,” Patrick said. “I bleed green and gold, and I’m just so proud right now.”