SIGHT SEEN: The person-of-interest here was the 6-foot-5 wide receiver Kyle Prater, the Proviso West grad who transferred in after spending two seasons (one as a redshirt) at USC.
"I think he looked like a guy who hasn't played football in awhile," Pat Fitzgerald would later say of him. "I'm just really happy for him, I'm excited for him. It's going to be a long journey, but I thought his attitude was great. There's so much on his plate. You wind back, it's his first day of college all over again. But if his attitude continues to be where it's at, he'll be fine."
FIRST THINGS FIRST: The 'Cats, for reasons Fitzgerald politely refuses to discuss, are asking the NCAA to waive the transfer rule and grant Prater immediate eligibility, which would mean he could play this fall rather than sit for a season. When asked when that decision might be made, he said, "I have no idea. Right now, we can start sending things into the NCAA and then we work on their timetable. I would say this. We'll exhaust every avenue possible from the standpoint of presenting a case that I think merits eligibility immediately. That's what we believe and I think working through with the NCAA, which I think is very fair and understanding when it comes to situations like this, hopefully we'll have a tremendous outcome. Nonetheless, we're just excited to have him aboard. It's great to have a Chicagoan playing Big Ten football in Chicago. . . I'd like to think we're a great destination for Chicago kids. There's no reason for you to leave."
DIGRESSION FOR A FLASHBACK: The Scribbler has been in these parts long enough to remember the '78-'79 basketball season, that season DePaul went to the Final Four behind a freshman (and future All-American) named Mark Aguirre. He had been a stud recruit out of Westinghouse High School and, when he chose the Blue Demons, he legitimized them for other stud recruits from the city and was quickly followed there by performers like future NBA first-round draft pick Terry Cummings. So now here is Prater, who himself was a stud recruit out of Proviso, which is why we wondered if his presence in Evanston would make it cool for other studs to join the 'Cats. "I don't think anyone's ever described me as cool," Fitzgerald joked when asked that question, but then he went on to offer this soliloquy that provided a telling glimpse of both him and his methodology.
"No doubt," he said. "But I don't know why any kid would leave Chicago. If you've got the character and you've got the athletic credentials to be here, this is a school that's going to change your life, plus you get the opportunity to play Big Ten football. But, you know, there's a lot of smoke and mirrors and innuendoes and garbage in recruiting, and sometimes it gets a little misleading to guys. What you see here is what you get. I'm not going to tell kids what they want to hear. I'm just not going to do that. I'm a believer in that. That's the way I was recruited, and it was solidified by every coach I worked for, and now that I've been here seven years, young people today need to hear what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.
"We might lose a recruit because of that. But I'm not going to kiss their hind parts, I'm not going to promise them things, I'm going to tell them the truth. We want guys who understand and value the truth, and want to be developed. We're just excited to have Kyle join our program. We would have loved to have had him out of high school. It just didn't work at that time. To have him come back, I'd like every Chicagoan to take a look and say, 'Why am I not there?' This should be a destination for them. If they don't (do that), I kind of wonder and am curious about what their thought processes are and their priorities are. The grass isn't always greener. I'll tell you that right now. The grass isn't always greener."
BACK TO OUR PROGRAM: Prater, on Monday, received limited reps, which is how it will go in the near future as he learns the 'Cat offense and adjusts to his new team. "That's going to be the hardest part for him. Just adapting to a new system, being the new guy, that's going to be the hardest part," said quarterback Kain Colter. "You've got to earn the respect. I understand what he's going through, but he's doing a great job being real humble and just working hard. He's doing a real good job."
Still, with a guy of his stature (in all senses of the word), it is not hard to imagine what could be in the distant future. "He'll have a big impact," said Colter. "He's the biggest target we have and anytime you can look outside and you've got a big target like that, it's great. It's almost like you've got a Megatron out there, a (Detroit Lions') Calvin Johnson-like guy. The other thing is, he's smooth. He's not one of those big guys who can't run. He's really athletic, he's really smooth, runs good routes. When he learns the offense and understands what we want, it's going to be amazing. With him, Tony (Jones), Rashad (Lawrence), we've got D(emetrius) Fields and CJ (Christian Jones), I feel we have a great receiving corps. That's probably the strength of our team right now. I feel my job right now is getting these playmakers the ball. I'll make my plays when I can. But if I can get them the ball, I feel we'll be in good shape."
THE LINEUP: Prater, on Monday, lined up as the X receiver, the spot held down last season by Fields. He, in turn, worked as a Y, the spot vacated by the graduated Jeremy Ebert. "It's interesting," Fields would say of his move. "I actually knew a lot more than I realized I did (about the Y) just from being in meetings. It is another task. It's new. But it's still receiving."
And the difference between being an X, who lines up outside, and a Y, who lines up inside?
"It's a lot more freedom (at the X)," explained Fields. "It's less everybody. It's a lot of you one-on-one with the cornerback. The defense is shifted to the other side a lot more so you have a lot more room to work. Inside, I'm seeing a lot more people and D ends dropping and linebackers and safeties over the top. So there's more freedom to work outside. But inside the blocking's a little easier because they can't get away from you."
ON A LIGHTER NOTE: Annually, after their first practice back from spring break, Fitzgerald awards one of his 'Cats a Best Tan Trophy. Asked Monday who got that coveted honor this year, he said: "We have a number of candidates. But we didn't have a team meeting this morning, so I haven't had a chance (to judge). So give me 'til Thursday. But it's unbelievable. I can't believe how many guys go on spring break. Good for them. They're fortunate they won the parent lottery."
AND FINALLY: Defensive end Tyler Scott, who spent his spring break visiting family in Carlsbad, Calif.: "The weather was actually worse than it was here. It was like 55, cold and rainy. I was like, 'Geez, can't get a break. First time in California and it's cold and rainy.'"