Friday, June 24, 2011
Iowa-Nebraska rivalry resonates for Prater
By Adam Ritenberg
Shaun Prater doesn't need a tutorial on what the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry means to both sides.
In fact, Prater might be the one educating his Hawkeyes teammates before their trip to Nebraska's Memorial Stadium on Nov. 25.
For Prater, Iowa's All-Big Ten senior cornerback, the regular-season finale will mark his first visit to Lincoln since November 2007, when he helped Omaha Central High School win the Class A state football championship. Perhaps the inaugural Legends division title will be at stake when Prater at the Hawkeyes return this year.
"When the schedule came out, I was just hoping we'd play Nebraska," Prater told ESPN.com this week. "And I'm pretty glad we're playing them in Lincoln. I'll make sure this team gets ready to see a sea of red. Everyone will be wearing red, even the kids. They'll have Husker swag on the cars.
"It's a very hostile environment. It's very loud. The fans love their Huskers."
Arguably no player on the field Nov. 25 will be closer to the rivalry than Prater. Growing up in Omaha, he came into contact with plenty of fans from both the Huskers and the Hawkeyes.
Despite playing high school ball on Nebraska soil, Prater never received a scholarship offer from Bill Callahan's staff. An offer arrived shortly after Bo Pelini took over as Huskers coach, but by then Prater was set on Iowa, which had pursued the defensive back for years.
"I had a chemistry with Iowa and I felt comfortable going there," he said.
Prater still has ties to the Nebraska program. He's good friends with former Huskers wide receiver Niles Paul, a fellow Omaha native.
The two players have worked out together every summer since Prater started his career at Iowa. They form a strong pairing: Paul, a second-team All-Big 12 receiver for Nebraska in 2010, was selected in the fifth round of April's NFL draft; Prater, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection last fall, flirted with entering the draft after the Insight Bowl before opting to return to Iowa.
"I think he measures in at 6-2, 226 pounds, so he gives me a chance to work against more physical-type players," said Prater, who recorded 68 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups in 2010. "I try to press-cover him a lot, so I can get used to bigger guys."
Not surprisingly, the two discussed Nebraska's move to the Big Ten during their recent workouts.
"He thinks it's a big shocker that Nebraska's leaving the Big 12," Prater said. "But like I said, they will adjust. Bo will do a good job of having those guys compete."
Prater also knows former Huskers star cornerback Prince Amukamara as well as current players Collins Okafor, Alfonzo Dennard and Sean Fisher, who was on the losing end of the 2007 state championship game in Lincoln. Fisher might be the only player closer to the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry than Prater, as his younger brother, Cole, signed with Iowa in February to play linebacker.
As fans on both sides gear up for a rivalry to reach a new level, Prater is ready, too.
"I always used to hear stories," Prater said. "One team used to claim that the other team was cheating, they were watching their practices. It's a rivalry that's going to be a good one. We're pretty close to one another. Nebraska joining the Big Ten, I think it was a great idea.
"I'm looking forward to playing those guys."