EVANSTON, Ill. -- Each attempt to define who Kyle Prater is as a football player ended with the same conundrum. It's the attempt to measure the most immeasurable factor in sports: potential.
When would he finally show the promise that made him a five-star recruit? Why can't he stay healthy? Is he a bust?
Some of, if not all of those questions may have been answered Saturday afternoon.
After seasons where, when he wasn't sidelined with injury, his six-foot-five frame was seldom used as a weapon, it seemed as though his senior season was one set up for success. For the first time, he said he was actually feeling healthy. And after losing Christian Jones for the season with a knee injury and Tony Jones for an unknown amount of time with another injury, Prater would have to step up and he has done so in more ways than one.
"This week the leadership council met and they said they really felt that they needed a voice from the wide receiver room in that group," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald after Northwestern's 23-15 loss to Northern Illinois, "and they appointed Kyle to our leadership council. So I think that tells you a lot about who he is and how hard he works and how much he has overcome and the respect level he has from every one of his teammates. That's from them not from me. I'm incredibly proud of him, he's persevered and stayed steady through a lot of negativity, a lot of negativity that was out of his control. I think he's handled it incredibly well since day one. He's been incredibly patient, and he's persevered through it well."
Before his appointment, Prater said he liked to lead by example, letting his play speak for itself. And just as his leadership took a step forward, so did his play.
Prater had his best game as a college football player, catching seven passes for 87 yards and his first career touchdown reception.
"It was a blessing. I am very humbled. Unfortunately I had to get my first touchdown with a loss, but like I said I'm humbled. I've overcome a lot. We just have to keep building as a team and move forward," Prater said of his career milestone.
Trevor Siemian, who threw him the pass, was also happy for the senior.
"I'm happy for him," Siemian said. "It's been a long time coming for him. He's been battling through a lot of adversity. Any time you see a guy like that put in the work and you see him day in and day out and you see it pay off it's pretty cool to see."
But even as Prater had a breakout performance, it still, undoubtedly left some to be desired. Following his touchdown reception, the usually sure-handed Prater dropped his next few targets. Those drops symbolized the "what might be" factor with Prater.
While his play and leadership may have erased some previous questions about him, one, overriding one still looms above his head: