The dinner rush starts early on Friday afternoons in the fall at Smokin’ Eddies BBQ in Mineral. All restaurants have their regulars, but Donna and Eddie Patrick can count on serving more than 50 hungry teenagers: the players on their son Will’s football team at Louisa.

Donna Patrick estimates Smokin’ Eddies has catered the varsity team’s pregame meal before every game, home and away, for the past seven years. Her restaurant normally serves barbecue, but the Lions’ weekly menu is specific: pasta, paninis and salad—one generous serving per player.

“It’s pretty cool,” Will Patrick, said. “I get to see my parents for that 20 minutes, and I get to control what [the players] eat, with no questions asked. I tell them, ‘It’s not a buffet.’ ”

Will Patrick played football at Louisa, then returned after college to serve as an assistant to Mark Fischer, taking over as head coach when a recurrence of cancer forced Fischer to retire after the 2017 state final. Even while their son was off at college, though, Eddie and Donna Patrick became part of the Lions’ program.

At first, Donna said, preparing food for so many hungry mouths was daunting. Now, it’s a routine trip from the restaurant on Main Street in Mineral to the school, less than 10 minutes away.

“We’ve got it down to a science,” she said. “It’s not crazy any more. It’s just a couple of hours a week, getting it delivered and served.

“The boys are amazing. They’re very polite. They’re waiting for me at the door, and they help carry in the food.”

It’s a family affair, with Donna’s sister and Will Patrick’s children helping serve the team. Donna Patrick said donating her food and time pays off when players and their families come back to patronize Smokin’ Eddies on other days of the week. And she takes pride in what she considers her small contribution to the team’s run of success.

“Because I love the team, I want to see them eat something good before the game.” she said.

OFFENSE

Coming off a 1,505-yard, 25-TD season in 2018, Jarett Hunter could be even more productive in 2019. He’ll get the ball early and often behind a veteran line, especially as freshman quarterback Landon Wilson gains experience and top receiver Noah Robinson recovers from an injury that may force him to miss the Lions’ first few games. Wilson showed great promise despite in scrimmages despite his inexperience. Center Griff Hollins and left tackle Logan Yancey are key returnees up front.

DEFENSE

No one player can replace linebacker Brandon Smith, the 2018 Group 4 state defensive player of the year who’s now pushing for playing time as a true freshman at Penn State. But the Lions have plenty of returning talent, anchored by nose guard Adrian Williams and end Derek Barbour up front. Austin Sims and Aaron Aponte return as 3-4 linebackers, and the Hunters (Jarett and Xavien) are back at the corners. Freshman end Qwenton Spellman, whom coach Will Patrick describes as a “freak show,” could make an instant impact.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Newcomers Miguel Castles and Shuan Williamson are slated to handle the kicking and punting duties, respectively. There’s no shortage of dangerous return candidates, led by Robinson, both Hunters and Robert Morgan.

THE BOTTOM LINE

For two straight years, the Lions have seen unbeaten seasons end with playoff heartbreak: a 2017 state final loss to Lafayette and last November’s stunning “Miracle at Mineral” last-play defeat against Eastern View. The Lions have 22 seniors who are hungry to erase those bad memories. If Williams plays beyond his years at quarterback, there’s plenty ot talent to do just that.

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