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Pounds and pounds of spaghetti kept the Grant Bulldogs stuffed to the gills. Cookies and brownies did the trick, too.
Razors and scissors then kept them busy as they turned from football players into hair stylists, determined to give each other a winning look.
"Most of the guys get Mohawks," Grant wide receiver Keion Miller said. "That's our tradition for the first week."
It was the night before the Bulldogs took on Johnsburg in their season opener last month. And Grant's first pregame meal of the season, where nearly 50 varsity players descended upon Miller's Round Lake house for a pasta dinner and new haircuts, was going off just as planned.
"We were all talking, guys were getting their hair cut, we were having fun," senior linebacker Billy Sullivan said. "Then all of a sudden you heard this cracking."
What happened next obviously wasn't in the plan at all.
The back deck, a two-story wooden structure, collapsed.
A group of about seven to eight players were hanging out there at the time, cutting each other's hair. Sullivan had just left the deck and was standing next to it in the backyard. He was talking with some teammates when it began to tear away from the house. It dropped 6 to 7 feet.
"I wasn't even sure what was happening," said Miller, who was on the deck at the time. "I thought someone had fallen off the deck, I didn't think the entire deck was falling. It was unreal. I had just stepped out onto the deck two minutes earlier."
Sullivan heard screams and watched in horror as Miller and the others toppled on top of each other.
"It was like slow motion when it happened," Sullivan said. "It seemed like the deck was falling forever, instead of just 6 or 7 feet. I remember being really scared. There was wood everywhere. The grill had fallen over.
"I thought that someone had to be seriously hurt."
Thankfully, no one was. Only a few players were even scratched. But the police and emergency personnel had been summoned just to make sure.
"Everyone was shaken up. It was a bad experience," said Keion's father Courtney, whose tool shed beneath the deck broke up the momentum of the collapse and likely made the accident less serious. "The best thing was that everyone was OK. We were so grateful for that."
Once everyone had been accounted for and checked out, the night continued on as planned. Some players went back to watching TV and playing video games. One player who was in the middle of his haircut when the deck collapsed, finished off his new 'do.
Just about everyone kept marveling at how lucky they all were.
When one of Miller's neighbors, who had rushed over to help, got philosophical, the Bulldogs suddenly became even more optimistic about the upcoming season than they were already.
"Keion's neighbor was the first to say something about how this thing was going to bring us all together," Sullivan said. "We started talking about it and everybody agreed. We all thought that this should turn out to be a really good season for us. You kind of just felt like, if we can overcome something like this, the football season should be no problem."
Of course, the Bulldogs, now 2-0 heading into tonight's North Suburban Conference Prairie Division tilt against Wauconda, aren't literally expecting to win every game this season without a fight. But after their ordeal, they certainly feel more empowered than ever to handle any adversity or hardship that comes their way.
"You definitely feel like we're all looking out for each other more now," Miller said. "If a fallen deck can't stop us, nothing can."