In late August 2011, the Mineral (Va.) Louisa County High football team was prepping for what looked like a big forthcoming football season. The Lions were loaded, had competitive facilities and a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in suburban D.C.
Then the earthquake hit, right in the school's backyard.
After a massive 5.8 magnitude quake struck Mineral, Va., on August 23, 2011, the Louisa High football program's season went from seamless to scrambled. The team no longer had a weight room. In fact, it hardly had any usable facilities or things like weights whatsoever.
Instead, what Louisa County had was each other. The Lions pulled together and refused to lay down or let the hardship that had hit their town end their football season before it started. As chronicled in depth by the Washington Post's Paul Tenorio, the Lions played the entire 2011 season slate. In fact, the team missed only one practice following the earthquake.
Instead of weights, the Lions used old tires and ropes, resorting to the type of core and strength training that is suddenly en vogue at fitness centers across the nation. Then the Lions went out and did something that was almost unthinkable: They won, and then they won again.
By the end of the 2011 campaign, Louisa County had a 7-4 record, only the third winning record in the 72-year history of the school. They did so in the most trying of circumstances, without much of a physical school remaining to represent; the high school suffered an incredible $44 million worth of damage from the natural disaster and its aftershocks.
A year later, the Louisa County football team is getting ready to return to the field. This time they have a weight room, though it is contained in a mobile trailer. Many of the team's players and the families are still scrambling to find safe places to live after the quake all but demolished their prior homes.
Nonetheless, the Lions will be looked upon to set the tone for another huge rebuilding year for the entire region. For his part, the school's athletic director, Mike Parsons, is confident that the team is ready to rise to the challenge for a second consecutive year.
"We're starting to get our identity back in our building, or buildings I should say, but football is huge," Parsons told Tenorio. "People started talking about next season the day after we lost our playoff game to Powhatan. It is a community event. It's the only high school in the county. There are people that come out that don't have anybody on the team.
"It was probably immeasurable how important that [first football game] was," said Mike Parsons, the school's athletic director. "As far as the school system, it's a huge part of the community, so many people have kids in the system. It was really nice for everybody to get back together at the school. It was just a small sense of accomplishment that we had some sense of normalcy."
A sense of normalcy, and faith that if a football team could win days removed from a near cataclysmic natural disaster, anything was possible, even a rebuilding process that likely entails years and millions of dollars ahead.