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By Mike Sandrolini
RIVER FOREST | There’s no doubt Kyle Prater looks like a bona fide NFL wide receiver.
He’s 6-foot-5 and checks in at between 235-240 pounds. On this particular day, he’s wearing a sleeveless New Orleans Saints T-shirt while helping out with a high school level training camp session for varsity level receivers and quarterbacks at Concordia University. The shirt makes his well-chiseled biceps, triceps and deltoids stand out all the more.
And Prater believes he can also play at the NFL level if a team gives him the opportunity. Sticking with a club, though, has been a challenge.
Staying healthy has been an issue for Prater both in college and during his bid to play NFL football. Prater was a five-star recruit at Proviso West and committed to Southern California. But injuries plagued him, and his career at USC never got off the ground. He ended up coming back to the Chicago area in 2012, transferring to Northwestern. During his senior year (2014), Prater led Northwestern with 51 catches and 535 yards.
The former Panther all-American wideout was in the Saints’ training camp both during the summer of 2015 and last summer. The Saints signed Prater as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and he stayed with the squad into the preseason, but was waived on Aug. 17 of that year.
In February of 2016, the Saints signed Prater to a reserve/futures contract, and New Orleans took a second look at him throughout preseason. The club waived him in early August with an injury designation after he suffered an ankle injury in practice. Upon clearing waivers, Prater was placed on the Saints’ injured reserve list, but the Saints waived him in late September.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the nature of the game,” Prater said following the camp, which is affiliated with Next Level Athletix Quarterback Training. “Injuries happen, but in my case, the margin for error is very slim. I had a great time out there and I gave everything I had.”
But Prater reports that he is healthy—“I feel great,” he says—and he did work out with the New York Jets in late January.
“The team that I’m talking to right now is the Jets,” he said. “That’s been the thing with me with teams. Can he stay healthy? That’s been the knock on me my whole career, but I don’t look at my injuries as something that’s hindering me now. I work extremely hard, train three or four times a week and see a chiropractor every week, and take care of my body.”
NFL teams love big receivers, and as previously noted, Prater possesses plenty of size. Yet he’s more of a possession receiver—the term pinned on wideouts who lack breakaway speed. Switching to tight end is something to which Prater is open.
“Whatever it takes to get on the field,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get another opportunity. The workout (with the Jets) went well; I ran some routes at tight end and caught everything and ran great routes. We’ll see.
“I can fluctuate my weight around pretty well, but I don’t think it would be a problem (switching to tight end). I would create a mismatch for linebackers.”
One thing Prater is not open to at this time is playing in the Canadian Football League.
“I’ve talked to my agent about these possibilities but I think at this point in my career, five surgeries, I’ve been to the point where I’ve been around the NFL for two years and if I get another shot at the NFL, so be it,” he said. “It’s something that I’m not leaning towards doing. I’ve put my heart and soul into this game to play in the NFL and we’ll see.”
Prater is free to sign with the Jets or any other NFL team that makes him an offer. He said he would be thrilled to get another call from his hometown team, the Chicago Bears. Prater nearly got a tryout with the Bears in 2015 after he was released by the Saints, but the injury bug bit him again at the most inopportune time.
“I was supposed to (have a tryout with the Bears),” Prater said. “In 2015, I came home and was working out waiting for my next opportunity and the Bears called me. Unfortunately 30 minutes before the Bears called me to bring me in, I broke my foot.
“That’s just been the story of my career. I had to tell the Bears no, but they kept tabs on me that year and they brought me back Dec. 8. But after the surgery (on his foot) they didn’t give me a chance to work out because I failed my physical. They said my foot wasn’t ready.”
Prater said he would love to play for the Bears.
“Being from Chicago and home-grown. I’d give this city everything I have at this point, win lose or draw,” he said. “I know that with my work ethic and the character that I have, I’ve been through a lot, but I want to look past that and I think we can go somewhere because I’m healthy now.
“I’m open to anything. I’m working hard, and at this point, I wouldn’t care who calls.”
Prater assumes he’ll be competing for a roster spot with some NFL team this summer. He just doesn’t know who yet, of course.
“You’ve got to stay ready,” he said. “I’m always training but in the meantime I have a film production company (called Chasing Greatness Productions). It’s something that’s going to go way longer than football.”