Before the lights and the action, there were cameras.
The big Antioch-Lakes football game tonight, which will leave the winner the only undefeated team in the North Suburban Prairie Division, has generated buzz even beyond Lake County.
Early Friday morning from the Lakes gym, a crew from NBC 5 News Today was scheduled to do a segment featuring the game for its "Prep Destination of the Week." Players and fans from both teams were planning to be in attendance and the segment was scheduled to air sometime between 6:45 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.
The show has profiled the most intriguing prep football game in Chicagoland each week as voted on by Facebook users. The Antioch-Lakes game, which received 7,449 of 15,445 total votes, edged tonight's Batavia-Geneva game by 100 votes.
This is the first time Antioch (5-0, 2-0 Prairie) or Lakes (4-1, 2-0 Prairie) has been a "Prep Destination."
"It's been very electric at school all week because people have been talking about the game, talking about the Facebook vote and getting on TV," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "It seems like the first five minutes of all my classes this week have been kids wanting to ask me about the game. I can only imagine what it's been like for our players.
"This is a really big game and everyone is so excited about it."
For Lakes, the excitement is two-fold.
This week is Homecoming Week for the Eagles.
"It's definitely been a very busy week here," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "But it's also been a very exciting week. Most football coaches aren't very big fans of Homecoming and everything that goes with it. And we've got even more going on with this game.
"But I told the kids not to deprive themselves. I want them to enjoy everything about this game. As long as they're ready to get down to business at 7:30 on Friday night, we'll be fine."
Defensive dandy: The Lakes offense didn't score a point last week against Vernon Hills.
But a punt return for a touchdown, and some of the stingiest defense in school history, allowed the Eagles to squeak out a 7-6 victory.
"I was very happy with our defensive performance in that game," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "To hold a team like Vernon Hills (the two-time defending Prairie Division champion) to (43) yards rushing is a big feat.
"We played physical and fast defense."
Mertens said lineman AJ Goggin and linebackers Drew Recker, Brandon Brumm, Troy Crow and Nick Battaglia had their best games of the year.
"A game like that gives our defense a lot of confidence," Mertens said. "Pretty much every team we play in the Prairie Division runs the ball well. If you want to win the in the Prairie, you've got to be able to stop the run and we've been doing that very well."
Slowly but surely: If it was up to Lakes running back Michael Pfeiffer, he would have been back on the field a long time ago.
But the standout senior has been rehabbing a knee injury that has kept him out since the beginning of the season, so doctors and trainers have insisted on a measured comeback.
Pfeiffer, a three-year varsity starter and the Eagles' leading rusher last season, hurt his knee in doubles over the summer. He finally was cleared last week and played 10 snaps against Vernon Hills.
"We wanted to give it a test run and he looked good," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "We're hoping to at least double those snaps this week (against Antioch).
"If he had his way, he would have come back weeks ago. But we don't want to rush him. Our priority is to take care of his health first."
Chapman's connection: There's yet another intriguing storyline to watch in the Antioch-Lakes game tonight.
Antioch running back Leroy Chapman is coming off of one of his best games of the season. The junior rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. He also ran back a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.
Chapman used to attend Lakes. He played football there as a freshman and was a student there for half of his sophomore year before transferring to Antioch.
"I remember hearing from my (underlevel) coaches how he tore it up against us when he was a freshman at Lakes," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "Then we heard that he was transferring to Antioch and we got all excited.
"He didn't play his sophomore year at Lakes so he's been a little behind because he didn't have as many reps as a kid his age would normally have. But he's such a tremendous athlete and a hard worker that he's been able to do a great job for us."
The fact that Chapman has blazing speed certainly hasn't hurt his ability to make up for lost time. And quickly.
Chapman blew his coaches away during preseason testing. He recorded a 4.55 mark in the 40-yard dash. The only Sequoit with a faster time on record is former star Cameron White, the school's all-time leading rusher.
White's 40 time was clocked at 4.54.
"Leroy just loves to run," Glashagel said. "He's a great kid but I always joke with him that if he ever did get in trouble that I couldn't make him run because it wouldn't be a punishment. He loves running too much."
Last spring, early in the track season, Chapman posted a 21.9 in the 200-meter dash and a 51.0 in the 400-meter dash.
"You don't see times like that very often," Glashagel said. "I told him he was one of the premier sprinters in the county. If he has a seam, like he did on that kickoff return, no one is going to catch him. He's blazing fast.
"He can take it to the house at any time."
Fish in water: Grayslake North quarterback AJ Fish was nothing like a fish out of water last weekend.
The savvy junior couldn't have been more comfortable in and out of the pocket as he rolled up a school-record 417 passing yards and 5 passing touchdowns.
Overall, Fish directed the Knights to 9 school records in a 49-22 victory over Hampshire. Josh Cokefair, Fish's favorite target, also set school records for 270 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns.
"Like a lot of programs, we always celebrate accomplishments like that with stickers and there were a lot of stickers (earned) for that game," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "It was nice to see all those records fall. Offensively, it was the best performance we've ever had in school history.
"AJ made some great plays. They tried to take our run game away and he made the adjustments. He's just such a great athlete, so extremely talented."
The fact that Fish is also a three-sport varsity athlete also impresses Wood. Fish is a standout for the basketball and lacrosse teams as well.
"I think he's got a lot of leadership attributes that you have to have if you're a three-sport varsity athlete," Wood said of Fish. "We saw a lot of leadership from him last week and it had a positive effect on everyone.
"We're just hoping we are able to build on the confidence from that game."
Not now, dear: With their work schedules, Grant coach Kurt Rous and his wife Kirsten don't see each other much during football season.
Kirsten is a trainer at Vernon Hills High School.
But this week, Kurt and Kirsten have purposely tried to keep contact with each other at a minimum. Kirsten primarily works with the football team at Vernon Hills. And this week, the Cougars are hosting Grant, and her husband.
"I am basically trying to avoid my wife this week," Kurt Rous said with a laugh. "I don't ask her anything about the game, and she doesn't ask me anything. Her loyalties are with the Cougars."
The one good thing about this week is that Kirsten finally gets to see one of Kurt's games. Usually, she's working a Vernon Hills game at the same time Grant is playing.
"She saw a little bit of our Homecoming game last week because it was on Saturday," Rous said. "But usually, she's never able to come to our games. So this is a good thing."
Survey says-: In preparing for Crystal Lake Central this week, Grayslake Central coach Nick Goshe posed a simple question to his assistant coaches and players.
"I said, 'Raise your hand, coaches included, if you have ever beaten Crystal Lake Central at any level in your football career here.'" Goshe said. "No one raised their hand."
That's right. The Rams have never ever beaten Crystal Lake Central at any level since Goshe took over the program five years ago.
Not that 5-0 Grayslake Central needs motivation to stay unbeaten. But if that was a problem, Goshe thinks it shouldn't be after he heard crickets as a result of his survey.
"We're not going to run away from the fact that we've never beaten Crystal Lake Central. We're going to face it. We're going to be frank about it," Goshe said. "We told the kids, 'If you want to be an elite team, you beat elite teams like Crystal Lake Central. You mimic what they do by working like they do and playing hard like they do, and then you beat them."