Aug. 6, 2014
Day Two of 2014 Training Camp saw the Wildcats practice outside on a beautiful afternoon in Evanston, and afterward, Skip Myslenski was able to catch up with senior Kyle Prater about his collegiate journey thus far and what he hopes to accomplish in his final season at NU.
Photo Gallery: Northwestern Training Camp Day 2
The words are there on his right forearm, inscribed longhand, and they come from the Bible, from Psalm 23:4. "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Death, I will fear no evil," it says here, and surely this is an image that is appropriate. For while 'Cats wide receiver Kyle Prater has never literally confronted such a journey, he has surely traversed a daunting course to reach this August day. "I've battled a ton, from hamstring to knee to groin, and I'm not ashamed to talk about it because I know, for one thing, it's made me better," he will simply say.
"It's been a tough road for him," Pat Fitzgerald will add. "To battle through the injuries the way he has, he's shown great patience. It's a terrible narrative as far as what happened to somebody, but a great narrative from the standpoint of overcoming adversity.
"I think we saw signs of his health in the spring. He was stronger. He's in better shape now. He's really worked hard. I expect him to have his best year since he's been in college. What does that mean? It's to-be-determined. But I fully anticipate that. I really do ... I'm really proud of how he's battled. I don't think there's a guy in our program -- everybody in the locker room, all the coaches, the support staff couldn't be more excited to watch a guy hopefully go out and have a lot of fun because he's gone through so much."
THE BACK STORY: He was one of those million-star recruits as a senior at Proviso West, and eventually signed on with Southern Cal. He remained there for a pair of years, one as a redshirt, and then transferred to Evanston, where he arrived on a cloud of hyperbole buttressed by outsized expectations. Fitzgerald, back then, warned that this fervor was misplaced, warned too that Prater would have to evolve and go through a process to achieve, and this is just what has occurred.
He caught a mere 10 passes for 54 yards in 2012, a mere nine passes for 99 yards a fall ago, but through this time too he also metamorphosed. "You live and you learn," he will say at one point on this Wednesday. "I'd say over the years, since (he was a high school senior in) 2010, I've matured and I've grown and I look at things differently."
"I'm a way different person," he will say at another. "I'm mature. I'm way better than I was then (as a high school senior). I've overcome a lot to get to this point, and I'm still going out there and enduring, like always. But I'm very happy with where I'm at right now. I just want to keep building and getting better."
"The injuries I had to endure made me really grow up," he will finally say at a third. "Transferring here was the best thing that ever happened to me, but I don't regret anything. I don't regret going to USC. I don't regret the injuries. Like I said, they matured me. I give all glory to God, first and foremost. Without Him I wouldn't be here. And my teammates. They've stuck with me since I got here, and the coaches as well."
THE PRESENT: His evolution was complete when this off-season began last January and here Prater made a decision. "I made up my mind," he says, "that I wanted to transform myself and focus on everything and attack the game more like a pro. Just take care of everything, the little things."
This meant altering his diet, which skewed heavily toward McDonald's, and working with a nutritionist, whose menu was far healthier, and losing himself in the weight room, where he was remolded by the `Cats strength-and-conditioning staff. Now, he says, his body fat is down to six or seven percent. Now, he says, his weight is up from 215 to 235, "But I'm moving better. I'm more flexible. It's all thanks to them." Now, he says, "This is the best I ever felt. I look at my body a way lot different now than I did when I was 17, 18 years old. Just attacking the little things, being more active in the training room, taking care of my body. It's paying dividends."
And what are those dividends, just what can he do now that he couldn't do before?
"Everything. Everything," says Kyle Prater. "My body feels 100 times better than it ever has, but I'm not complacent. I want to keep improving, getting better. I'm very humble. I just want to keep learning. I feel great. But I just want to keep getting better."
"We knew a lot about him in high school, and he's looking bigger, faster, stronger than he was in high school. That's what I see right now," Pat Fitzgerald will finally say to that same question. "It's just a process now of him getting out there, getting comfortable. I think he's got really good chemistry with Trevor (Siemian) and our quarterbacks and, gosh, he's a big target now. He's catching the ball as well as he has. And he's stronger in his lower body. You remember when he first got here, man. I got better-looking legs than he had back then.
"So. He's really worked hard and the credit goes to Kyle. He's always been a rock star as a person. Now, hopefully, he's gets to go out and have fun."
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