PROPHETSTOWN (WCIA) — The lights are on long before the sun comes up in Prophetstown. The coffee pours as freely as the conservation at the Prophet Family Restaurant, hosting a daily group of regulars who talk about everything from politics to the daily small town gossip. Amber Posey-Rippy has been waiting tables here for 15 years, born and raised in Prophetstown, she has seen and heard it all.

“It’s everything small town America,” Posey-Rippy said. “You know all your regulars, you know all your customers.”

Steve Lindahl regularly finds himself at the middle table, where the topic of conversation has centered on Illinois football a lot more as of late, and Prophetstown’s most famous native Bret Beilema.

“It’s a little exciting for Illinois, put us back in the spotlight,” Lindahl said about the Illini’s success under Bielema.

Lindahl and the Bielemas were neighbors when Bret was growing up on an 80-acre hog farm south of town. The old Bielema homestead looks a lot different now, long since sold but Steve still remembers the current Illini coach walking beans and working on the farm, even babysitting his kids a time or two.

“Actually when he was in high school here I always figured he was going to be a lawyer cause he was real personable, outgoing and obviously it worked for him,” said Lindahl.

Steve’s story isn’t unlike others in Prophetstown, the Bielemas are a well known name in a place where everyone seems to know everyone. Bret’s legacy remains at his old high school, with pictures in the hallway of the Panthers’ grad. Prophetstown Atheltic Director Derick Cox says it means a little more the Illini coach now represents both his home state and the Panthers on the big stage.

“Small town, I think everybody’s invested in it,” Cox said. “They followed him up to Wisconsin to Arkansas, wherever he went they wanted him to do well.”

The Panthers still play football on the same field Bielema suited up on more than three decades ago, although the school now co-ops with Erie for sports. Bielema seemingly did it all in his time here, from football to wrestling, track to playing the tuba in the band, the foundation for his future success was laid in the small no stoplight town of less than 2,000 people.

“We moved there when I was young, I was like four years old when we moved there and basically spent every day of my life there until I went to college,” Bielema said. “(I) was shaped a lot obviously by the family I was around, my mom, my dad, two brothers and two sisters but also the community. My first job as a lifeguard, my first job as a stock boy in the grocery store, friends that I had then are still friends I have now.”

“You know he represents Prophetstown, it keeps coming up because of his past,” Cox said. “So even if he’s down at the University doing awesome things, everywhere I go, it’s like, ‘Oh you’re from Prophetstown? You know Bret Bielema.’ So it’s cool, I think everybody, even if they haven’t met him, they still celebrate his successes with him.”