Louisa County Football: More Than a Way of Life
MINERAL, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- If you have not taken a trip to The Jungle in Louisa County, it is something you have to see to believe.
"Get your popcorn ready," Louisa County athletic director George Stanley said, "I think it is every bit of what's advertised, it's crazy it's just an environment that I haven't seen anywhere else."
"Different atmosphere, on Monday through Thursday it's little old Louisa," Louisa senior OL/DL Eli Brooks said, "Then on Friday it's like we're playing Texas football out here."
"I think it's probably the best atmosphere in high school football anywhere in the state of Virginia," Louisa commentator Dickey Purcell said.
And it all starts with more than 20 students over 50 hours a week and an undisclosed amount of paint.
"Passion and love that's kind of what it all comes down to," Jungle Turf Crew teacher Logan Horne said, "Everyone loves Louisa, loves coming out here on Friday nights. We create this beautiful field for football players to destroy and we're okay with that."
A couple fields away, Louisa alum and head coach Will Patrick has carried on the tradition from late head coach and mentor Mark Fischer, leading the Lions to six-straight Jefferson District titles.
"The young kids, the ones now they look up to these varsity players and those are like their superstars just like the kids playing varsity now at one point in their life, they were the kids throwing the ball around during the games looking up at those guys saying 'I hope to be there one day, I hope to run through that tunnel one day," Patrick said.
Nearly every year Louisa County brings through another class, who not only grew up playing together, but grew up watching games at The Jungle.
"My uncle coached, Gabe Turner coached the '06 team, my brother played in the early 2000's," senior quarterback Landon Wilson said, "I've been going to the games ever since I was a little kid, so I pretty much grew up Louisa football. Going from the stands I never thought I'd be the one playing."
The dream for every kid from pee wee on up, reaching the tunnel onto Mark Fischer field.
"My first time it was something crazy," Brooks said, "Just fireworks going off, you hear thousands of fans yelling, screaming, 'we love you, we love you."
"Coming out the tunnel, we've got the motorcycle in there, we've got the smoke, you can't see anything," Wilson said.
"I've been coaching here a long time, 15 years total, my fifth year as head coach," Patrick said, "I remember them all man and just the atmosphere, the electricity. I played here a long time ago and it wasn't like that."
The tunnel is the headliner, but from parachuter with the game ball to the brand new Jumbotron complete with a student-run production to an actual live Lion.
This atmosphere did not appear out of thin air or over night.
"I'm playing ball at UVA and got out and keep hearing about Louisa, Louisa, Louisa and I'm like well where is Louisa, not being funny, just being honest about it," Stanley said, "Never really paid attention to the exit on 64.
"When I moved to Louisa in 1983 I asked people how was our football team, the answer I got was we have a really good baseball team," Louisa commentator Byron Mehlhaff said, "But it's slowly changed and when Mark Fischer came in 2004-2005 it really started to turn around."
Louisa County Schools Superintendent Doug Straley and the late coach Mark Fischer set out to make Friday nights in Louisa County an event that would literally shut the town down.
"Back when I first became the athletic director, Mark Fischer and I sat down and said what do we really want this to look like here as we build community," Straley said, "As we build something special and it's been really, really fun doing it along the way and adding something each year to make it a little more special."
"When I was athletic director, which was 12 years ago," Louisa County principal Lee Downey said, "We were like are we making this too much of a circus like there is a football game."
The cliche football is a way of life does not sell the whole picture in Louisa because Louisa football sticks with you for more than a lifetime.
"It's an unforgettable experience, especially having a coach like Coach Pat," Brooks said, "He makes sure you'll learn a life lesson from it if you learn anything."
"At the end of the day we're having fun, we're playing the greatest game on the planet and we're making memories with our friends with the players with the coaches with the community," Patrick said, "That's what it's really about right? Bringing everyone together for one cause to support and root for one team."