June 28, 2011
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Summer is the time of year when University of Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater wants to hear how bad he is.
Tell him he needs to gain weight. Tell him that his man-to-man coverage is so-so. Tell him it wouldn’t hurt if he logged more hours in the film room.
“I use the summer to attack my weaknesses,” Prater said. “When I got back from the (NFL Draft Advisory Board) evaluation, the experts, pros, said I haven’t worked on any man-to-man coverage, judging the ball, attacking the ball, getting the ball at the highest point, so I try doing all that. I ask my coaches if there’s anything I can work on and I try to attack it every single day.”
Prater was named first team all-Big Ten defensive back last season by coaches and media and he has already been mentioned on several preseason All-America teams.
“I don’t find out about any of that stuff until someone calls and tells me,” Prater said. “It goes in one ear and right out the other one. I try to focus on the season and hopefully I can get these type of awards in the postseason.”
Prater ranked second in the Big Ten a year ago with four interceptions for 80 yards (0.33 per game) and seventh with six pass breakups (0.83). He also made a career-high 68 tackles as a junior, giving him 120 to go along with six interceptions during his days as a Hawkeye.
“I use the summer to attack my weaknesses. When I got back from the (NFL Draft Advisory Board) evaluation, the experts, pros, said I haven’t worked on any man-to-man coverage, judging the ball, attacking the ball, getting the ball at the highest point, so I try doing all that. I ask my coaches if there’s anything I can work on and I try to attack it every single day.”
Senior Shaun Prater
In Iowa’s 24-3 victory against No. 20 Penn State last season, Prater picked off a Rob Bolden pass before zigging and zagging across the Kinnick Stadium turf for a 33-yard touchdown. Four weeks later — during a 37-6 win over No. 5 Michigan State — Prater registered a team-high 10 tackles (seven solo) and his second-quarter 42-yard interception return of a Kirk Cousins pass set up a touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes a 23-0 lead. Prater also had 10 tackles Nov. 6 during a road win at Indiana and, during a 27-24 win in the Insight Bowl against No. 12 Missouri, he made nine tackles with a pass breakup.
After the fruitful 2010 season Prater dangled his toes in the NFL Draft water. Becoming a third or fourth-round draft pick wasn’t music to his ears, so he opted for another fall of listening to Back in Black and Enter Sandman before charging onto the turf inside Kinnick Stadium.
“I thought about (going to the NFL) for a while, but I feel comfortable coming back and right now I’m very proud that I came back. I made the best decision,” Prater said.
The Hawkeyes agree. Prater is the lone senior projected as a starter in a UI secondary that held 2010 opponents to 6.3 yards per pass play and 12 touchdowns through the air. Because of skill and reputation, Prater isn’t expected to be a busy man this fall — opponents would be foolish to throw his way unless out of desperation.
“I would love to see a lot of action,” Prater said with a grin. “That’s why I volunteer on kickoffs. I just want to stay active. I have all this energy and I need to burn it somewhere.”
In 2008, the Hawkeyes swept into Central High School in Omaha, Neb., and lured Prater away from home-state University of Nebraska, now a Big Ten Conference rival in the Legends Division. It will take plenty of restraint to keep Prater from peeking ahead to a Nov. 25 clash against the Cornhuskers in Memorial Stadium.
“I’m trying to stay calm and collected right now because I know I could show up in Lincoln and psych myself out,” Prater said. “I’m trying to take it day-by-day until it comes.”
In reality, Prater wanted a change from the red-and-white Nebraska scenery. He admits that driving 45 minutes to eat his mother’s food every day was tempting, but he sought a college experience that was dramatically different than high school.
“All my friends were there and I’ve been in Nebraska my whole life,” Prater said. “I wanted to try something new and on top of that, I wanted a different conference (instead of the Big 12).”
While Prater is spending the summer mending his deficiencies, the team’s collective mentality will be to close out games like it did during the Insight Bowl. In Tempe, Ariz., the Hawkeyes lost a lead late in the third period before Micah Hyde returned an interception 72 yards for the go-ahead points.
“We finished it out in the fourth quarter and the defense made plays when it had to,” Prater said.
That eased the sting of losing five games in the regular season by an average of 3.6 points per game. Arizona broke a 27-27 tie and scored with 3:57 left; Wisconsin overcame a 30-24 deficit to win on a touchdown run with 1:06 remaining; Northwestern outscored the Hawkeyes 14-0 in the fourth quarter and tallied the winning touchdown with 1:22 left; Ohio State scored 10 unanswered fourth-quarter points, including the game-winner with 1:47 remaining; and Minnesota charted a game-winning touchdown with 4:31 left.
“We should have just pulled together,” Prater said. “We have to fix our margin of error and play to the best of our ability to make sure we get that win in all phases of the game. It boils down to who makes the most plays so we’re going to get that victory.”
Iowa opens the season Sept. 3 against Tennessee Tech. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. (CT).