IOWA CITY — Being a college football player has its ups and downs, but nothing could have prepared Shaun Prater for the radical reversal of fortunes he experienced in mid-winter.
The Iowa cornerback went from a big victory over Missouri in the Insight Bowl and contemplating an early jump to the NFL to finding himself hospitalized with an ailment he never heard of, couldn’t pronounce and threatened to punctuate a promising career.
Prater was one of 13 Iowa players afflicted with rhabdomyolysis in January, but he said he is back to normal and is going through spring drills with the Hawkeyes as if nothing happened.
“I never thought I would come back (from winter break), and then be in the hospital two days later,” Prater said Wednesday. “But everything happens for a reason. I’ll take this and learn from it.”
The 13 players were hospitalized after a much-publicized workout in which they were to do 100 squat lifts with heavy weights in as short of a period of time as possible. The drill was administered in the first offseason workout, and although Prater said he had been exercising every day during the break, he wonders now if everyone concerned didn’t push themselves a little too much.
“The previous record for that drill was 8 minutes — 100 squats in 8 minutes,” he said. “So, the whole time I was just trying to break 8 minutes.”
He experienced extreme soreness in the days afterward, and then his urine began changing colors, first to a dark brown, then to dark orange. That’s when he and many of his teammates were told they needed to be checked out at the hospital.
Prater said he was “pretty shocked” to learn that he had an ailment caused by the extreme breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to permanent kidney damage.
“I thought I would get my blood drawn, and in 15 minutes I’d be good to go and be back in class the next day,” he said. “It turned out I was staying in the hospital for about a week.”
His mother, Cynthia, almost immediately hopped into the car and drove from Omaha to Iowa City. His brother, Nate, a former Kansas State player, angrily lashed out at the Iowa program via Twitter.
It was a strange and confusing time. Prater said he knows it looked to the outside world as if Iowa’s strength and conditioning coaches were trying to kill the players.
He and his teammates both feel there was a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about the situation.
“There were a lot of false reports out there,” linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “It was disappointing, especially when you knew the guys involved and knew they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
Prater said that it’s all in the past now. He’s had a chance to calm down his family members and get on with his life.
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He said none of it has done anything to change the approach or the outlook in the Iowa weight room. If anything, he said, it’s one more motivator for his final season of college football.
“I was out for 40 to 50 days, and that made me hungry,” he said. “It felt weird, like I was a normal student or something. I was just coming home and eating and not working out.”
He said he was “a little sluggish” in the first workout of spring but is back to normal now and ready for another All-Big Ten season and hopefully even more team success.
He said he still is glad he said no to the NFL. He said the prospect of getting to play the final regular-season game of his career at Nebraska helped lure him back. He grew up about an hour from the Nebraska campus and probably has seen 10 games in Memorial Stadium but never has had a chance to play there.
Mostly, he said, he came back because he wasn’t likely to go very high in the NFL Draft. About a half-dozen NFL teams looked over his game films and concluded he would go somewhere between Rounds 4 and 6.
“This gives me another chance to come back and play one more year with my teammates,” he said. “It’s another chance to win a Big Ten title, another chance to win a national championship, a chance to play against Nebraska, a chance to lead this team.”