His return to the field, Kyle Prater said Thursday after USC finished a three-hour practice on Howard Jones Field, has been a long time coming.
It sure has.
Prater, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound redshirt freshman receiver, suffered a broken foot during offseason workouts in early February and was expected to miss six to eight weeks, pushing him just past the start of spring practice.
He ended up missing 10, pushing him almost until the end of spring practice. Thursday was his first day back on the practice field, but the talented receiver was still held out of contact drills and did mostly individual activities and some 7-on-7.
"It felt good, man," said Prater, who redshirted his freshman season after a number of nagging injuries sidelined him for much of spring and fall practices. "It felt real humbling to get back on the field. It's been a long time coming so I'm just taking every step that they tell me."
The initial prognosis was thought to mean Prater would return after a few practices, but he continued to stay out of commission and only started doing some light running on his own on the sidelines during last week's sessions. Had he been healthy, he would've likely been competing with senior Brandon Carswell and sophomore De'Von Flournoy for the starting spot opposite Robert Woods, but he'll now have to save that for fall camp time.
"Before spring ball, I was thinking about coming out earlier than expected, but thank God they got me out here the last week," Prater said. "I'm just doing what I can do. I felt good out there today -- felt like I was back and I was just glad to be out there with my teammates."
Said coach Lane Kiffin: "We’ve been wanting to do that all along."
Prater won't participate in Saturday's spring game, at least not in the team portion, but he'll do some stretching and probably do individual drills, again, while the team runs through plays in the Coliseum.
He'll take part in the team's individual workouts over summer and is, at this point, considered a full-go for fall camp, which begins in early August.
"It's no point in forcing everything right now because the season is a long way from here," Prater said. "I just want to make sure I'm back for the fall, so I'm taking that into account."
While out, Prater stayed active in the weight room rehabbing and studying the playbook some more. He also paid attention on the sidelines, he said.
"I took a lot of mental reps," Prater said. "It's a lot of stuff I know from being here but I continue to stay on it. I noticed that our offense is more explosive this year -- we have a lot of weapons -- so there's a lot of stuff I've been watching, film-wise, too."