Grayslake Norths Fish will miss the Friday fanfare
Grayslake North quarterback AJ Fish captains the Daily Herald's all-area football team for Lake County — as he begins basketball season, and looks ahead to a collegiate future in lacrosse at Virginia.
Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer
The rush, if AJ Fish is lucky enough to experience it, will be intense.
Grayslake North's senior quarterback is looking forward to beginning his college lacrosse career next year at the University of Virginia, a national powerhouse since the mid-1980s.
When the Cavaliers won the NCAA national lacrosse championship in 2011, nearly 36,000 crazed fans took over a college football stadium to watch in person.
Fish would love to someday play in front of a crowd that size. But for now, he can at least relate to the electricity that must have charged the atmosphere that day.
In fact, Fish says that he's experienced a similar type of hype, pomp and circumstance every fall Friday night over his high school football career.
"There's really nothing else like Friday nights in high school football," said Fish, the Knights' starting varsity quarterback for the last three seasons. "The atmosphere and the games are unbelievable. I'm really going to miss it."
Fish isn't leaving the game he loves empty-handed.
A few weeks ago, Fish found out that he was named to the all-state team. Today, he is being honored as captain of the Daily Herald's all-area football team for Lake County.
A yard-gobbling machine, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Fish single-handedly accounted for 3,734 yards of offense this season, between his passing and running. Keep in mind that some entire teams in this area don't account for that many yards in a season.
Fish also scored a whopping 46 touchdowns.
The cherry on the top was that as Fish went, so did Grayslake North, which put together its best season in school history. The Knights finished with an 8-2 record. They also won their first outright Fox Valley Fox division title and earned the first playoff berth in the seven-year existence of the school.
"AJ had an amazing year," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "He ranked No. 2 in the state of Illinois in total yards. He could do it all. So many games stand out where he really carried us by making some great plays.
"There was one play at Woodstock North where we were facing a third-and-11 and he scrambled all over the backfield before finally hitting Titus Booker with this great pass for a crucial first down. He made plays like that all season."
Fish made a ton of big plays in one of Grayslake North's biggest wins of the season. Wood calls the Knights' 56-21 Week 3 triumph over perennial power Jacobs a signature win. In that game, Fish signed his John Hancock all over the field.
Against Jacobs, Fish was in on a stunning 7 touchdowns, 4 rushing and 3 passing. He also finished with 476 yards of total offense. He completed 19 of his 28 passes for 323 yards and rushed the ball 19 times for 153 yards.
"That was the biggest win on our schedule," Fish said. "That game was fun. We ran the ball a lot and we passed a lot. I like doing both. I thought I really helped our team win that game.
"When I first started playing high school football, I'm not sure what my expectations were. But I'm pretty sure I wasn't thinking I'd do anything like that."
Fish filled it up last year, too. He passed for more than 2,100 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior.
Over the last two years, Fish has built up the kind of resume that brings in Division I coaches in droves. But, shockingly, only a few inquiries have come his way.
Wood thinks that Fish's early commitment to play lacrosse at Virginia has kept a lot of major Division I football coaches away.
Fish, whose father played college lacrosse, led Grayslake North to a state title in lacrosse last spring. He then spent much of the summer playing lacrosse instead of hitting all of the top football camps where recruiters hang out.
Before football season even began last August, he had committed to Virginia.
"I understand coaches being gun-shy about AJ because they know he's already committed to play Division I lacrosse at Virginia. I get that," Wood said. "But what I don't get is why some of them aren't just checking in any way, just in case. AJ was one of the best quarterbacks in the state, and I think he would have listened. With the right offer, I think he would have been interested in playing college football.
"These coaches are losing out. I guess that's Virginia's gain."
Not so fast, though.
Fish isn't East Coast-bound yet. A three-sport athlete, Fish is now fully immersed in basketball. He's expected to be one of the Knights' top-scoring perimeter players this winter.
"High school basketball is awesome, and I'm excited the season has started and that we're playing again," said Fish, who was brought up to the varsity hoops team as a freshman. "I think whatever season it is, that's my favorite sport."
Starting next year, when every season is about lacrosse, Fish predicts that there might be times when he'll wish he could drift back into football mode.
"I'm excited to see what I can do in college with lacrosse and I think I'm ready to move on," Fish said. "But next fall, I'll probably really be missing football. It was hard knowing that our last game this season was the last time I would put on my pads for a game. Football is going to be one of my best memories of high school."
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