Louisa players won’t let coach’s final season end

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. -- Of the more than 300 public high school football teams in Virginia, only 12 are still practicing this week, getting ready for Sunday's state championships.

One of those will be the final game for Louisa head coach Mark Fischer, who's final season has gone longer than expected.

"I'm going to relax. Soak it all up," Fischer said. "Enjoy the moment. Last week, and the week before, I've been preaching I don't want this to be my last week. I've gotta find a new speech."

Before this season began, Fischer decided this would be his final season as head coach of the Lions. It is every coach's hope they can exit any job on their own terms, but for Fischer, this is far from being just his decision.

"You have to think about what's best for the team, for the kids, and the program," Fischer said to CBS 6 back in October. "The last thing I wanted to be was a figurehead."

"It ain't easy. You do a lot of praying, a lot of soul searching because it's what you are. It's still not easy"

Back in October, we sat down with Fischer to talk about his decision, precipitated by his battle with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer he has been battling for five years. Through chemotherapy and dialysis, Fischer has had days when he didn't feel like going to practice, but his team has put in some of their best work on his worst days.

"They've picked me up when I'm down, when I've had a bad day," Fischer said. "They know when I'm not having a good health day. You almost see them ratchet it up a little bit."

"Just knowing he's had my back and seeing him come out here every day in the condition he's in, it makes me want to strive harder every day," said senior quarterback Malik Bell.

"I do everything I can to stay positive, to show them you can overcome whatever is thrown in your face. If they see me gutting it out, then they gut it out," Fischer added. "It goes back and forth and has become something kind of special."

Their entire season has become something special as well. Louisa is undefeated, having already beaten some of the best teams in their division in the state.

Road wins at Monacan and Dinwiddie, then one final game on his own field in the state semifinals against Lafayette. All victories, all getting them one step closer to a state title which has eluded both the program and the coach.

One more opponent, one more game stands between them and what almost seems to be their destiny.

Fischer could not have imagined this when he made his difficult decision back in the spring, but his perspective now allows him to enjoy this final ride more than he might have before his diagnosis.

"This whole team is like a family. I look up to him a lot tremendously," said senior lineman Tony Thurston. "He's one of my biggest role models. I would do anything for the man."

"I've gotten a million calls. Are you nervous? Are you this or that?" Fischer said. "Golly, I'm not nervous or excited. I'm not anything. I couldn't be more comfortable."

"To have the luxury to get this far in my last year? I couldn't be more blessed," he added.

Fischer wants to return to the Lions next year as whatever kind of assistant they might need, if his health allows. They will kick off at 5:30 on Sunday, the very last high school playoff football game of the year in Virginia, against Salem at Zable Stadium in Williamsburg.