Johnny Prater is one of those guys who loves to read. He reads everything. He has to be in the loop. He craves information, and he knows where he can get it.
And that's why a few years ago, Johnny Prater was hurt. No, he hadn't pulled a hamstring or broken a foot or undergone knee surgery. No, he hadn't been getting migraine headaches. Instead, something burned inside of him. Deep down, he was pained.
And the inflictors of that pain just wouldn't relent.
"Bust," they said. "Kyle Prater is a bust."
For Johnny, proud father of former USC and Northwestern wide receiver Kyle, that word was inescapable.
In fact, Kyle was one of the main reasons he loved to read. Because until Kyle was 17 years old, everything was positive. The hype and the attention were wonderful. The success on the football field was thrilling. Those five stars were a badge of honor.
Throughout the next five years though, those five stars became a burden. The attention became draining. The success dried up.
Kyle Prater arrived at USC with limitless expectations. He ended his college career with twice as many surgeries as touchdown catches.
And that's why somewhere along the way, Kyle recognized that his father was taking it personally — all the articles, all the criticism — and told him to stop reading.
"You know the hard work that a person is putting in," Johnny says. "These people that are making these statements offer what they've seen as far as results. They don't see what he's had to fight through."
"Half the time," Kyle says, "those people that are writing those things are sitting on the couch, out of shape anyway, and they don't know what they're talking about."
For a while, we were those people. We would tell the story of a football player that should have been dominating but wasn't. We would tell the story of a guy who couldn't get the most out of his talent. We would tell the story of all that unfulfilled potential.
But that's not the Kyle Prater story.
It's often said that a dream becomes a goal with a deadline. A decade and a half ago, Kyle Prater self-imposed that deadline. When his elementary school teacher asked him to write a letter to his mom about what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer wasn't uncommon. He wanted to become a professional football player. His goal was the NFL.
But if his goal was common, his pursuit of it has been anything but.
His mindset at the age of 17 was simple: "Three years and out. First round." That dream, the NFL, was a reality. His "50 or 60" scholarship offers were tangible proof.
Five years, countless injuries and one underwhelming college career later — and just days before that self-imposed deadline, the 2015 NFL Draft — his mother, Sonya, says, "We just need one team to give him a chance."
Kyle Prater's story is about how that childhood dream — the NFL — became a realistic goal. And then how, over the course of five years, that goal became shrouded in uncertainty.
Prater's story is being told right now because the NFL Draft commences tonight in Chicago, and soon after its conclusion, Prater will likely realize that dream. He'll get a phone call from one of 32 teams offering him the opportunity to make it come true.
But his story is only being told at all because of the unique form it took.
It's the story of a high school football phenom who became a figure larger than his six-foot-five frame could handle.
It's the story of a top-ranked recruit who yearned so much to live up to that label that he never even had the chance to.
It's the story of a kid who subsequently became so distraught and depressed that he caused his mother to develop a brain aneurysm.
It's the story of a young man who, in order to salvage that childhood dream, abandoned the very place that was supposed to make it a reality.
It's the story of a man whose failures and horrid luck are the only reasons he is where he is — and is who he is — today.
This is the story of a 22-year-old who, five years ago, forgot where he came from, then was forced to remember, and has since been battling to recapture the promise that he once held.
This is the Kyle Prater story.