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Harty: Hawks have connections to Nebraska

[ 0 ] November 24, 2011 |

Most college football players turn down a chance to make an early entrance in the NFL draft because they want to improve their stock.

Iowa senior cornerback Shaun Prater claims to have a different reason that’s hard to believe. But if it is true, Prater came back for his senior season in order to play in Friday’s first Big Ten Conference game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb.

So perhaps this game is as big as the hype surrounding it.

“I was thinking about leaving at the time, but when I saw that we played (Nebraska), I had to come back,” Prater told reporters at Iowa’s weekly news gathering Tuesday. “As soon as that schedule came out, I got about 30 or 40 phone calls from family members saying you have to come back. And I definitely need tickets.”

Prater grew up in Omaha, which is another way of saying he grew up cheering for the Nebraska football team.

His loyalty shifted to Iowa during the recruiting process because the Hawkeyes showed Prater more love from the beginning. It also helped that Nebraska had a coaching change during Prater’s senior year of high school.

Prater finally received a scholarship offer from Nebraska, but only after Bo Pelini replaced the fired Bill Callahan as the Nebraska head coach shortly after the 2007 season.

By then, though, it was too late.

Prater took a recruiting visit to Nebraska and had the big red carpet rolled out for him. His commitment to Iowa wasn’t binding, so Prater could have jumped ship.

But he didn’t, which is kind of refreshing in this age when recruits change their minds about which school they want to attend almost as often as they change clothes.

“It was definitely tough,” Prater said of turning down Nebraska. “I sometimes pictured myself being a Husker, being on the Blackshirt defense. All my friends from my high school like that college.

“But I made my choice already to go to Iowa and I stuck with it.”

It’s hard to argue with his decision, considering Prater made first-team all-Big Ten last season and will be making his 34th career start Friday.

“Just to see how my career has turned out, I’m thankful, and I’m lucky to have a chance to play with these guys,” Prater said.

Being a Hawkeye comes with a price, though.

“I’m not even sure if I’m welcomed back to the state as a Hawkeye,” Prater said. “Hopefully, the fans are pretty nice to me. But I’m just focused on getting this win. That’s the only thing that matters.”

Prater isn’t the only starter in Iowa’s secondary with ties to Nebraska.

The father of sophomore free safety Tanner Miller played linebacker at Nebraska, and Tanner was a Cornhusker fan long before he started cheering for the Hawkeyes.

“I think it’ll be fun for him and my whole family to see me in the place they watched him play, too,” Tanner Miller said. “It’ll be a good feeling for him.”

Miller was born in Iowa City, but within a year his family moved to the tiny town of Superior, Neb., his father’s hometown.

His family moved back to Iowa, settling in Kalona, when Miller was entering eighth grade.

Miller arrived in Iowa as a devout Husker fan, but over time he grew fond of the Hawkeyes, especially when Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz offered Miller a scholarship late in the recruiting process.

Nebraska wanted Miller to follow in his father’s footsteps by being a walk-on, but a scholarship offer from Iowa was too good to pass up.

“There were some mixed feelings, obviously,” Miller said. “But ever since Iowa gave me the chance to play here I’ve grown to respect them, and I’m thankful for the opportunity that I have.”

Iowa all-Big Ten offensive lineman and South Dakota native Riley Reiff also has a connection to Nebraska, but not because he lived there, but rather because he committed to the Cornhuskers before switching to Iowa.

Even the head man at Nebraska has Iowa in his background, with coach Bo Pelini having served as a graduate assistant under Hayden Fry at Iowa in 1991. Pelini also grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School, which is the same high school that Bob Stoops and his younger brother Mike Stoops attended before playing under Fry at Iowa.

Iowa and Nebraska only have played twice in the past 30 years, with the Cornhuskers winning by scores of 42-7 in 1999 at Kinnick Stadium and 42-13 a year later in Lincoln.

The 1999 game marked Ferentz’s debut as the Iowa coach.

His program has come a long way since then and so has this rivalry.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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