Shaun Prater, above, has two of the Hawkeyes’ six interception returns for a touchdown in the past two seasons.

Nick Schmidt/Quad-City Times file photo

IOWA CITY - Shaun Prater flirted with the notion of an early end to his college career.

After recording 68 tackles, intercepting four passes and breaking up six more during an all-Big Ten junior season, the Iowa cornerback contemplated making himself available for the NFL Draft a year ago.

Then, he thought about Nebraska.

He thought about the last time he took the field at Memorial Stadium.

And second thoughts won out.

"When the schedule came out and I found out that I had a chance to play my last regular-season game in college at Nebraska, I knew I was coming back for my senior season," Prater said. "It was something I couldn't pass up. How many players can say they played their last high school game and last regular-season game in college on the same field?"

Prater will be able to say that after today, when the Hawkeyes visit the Cornhuskers in an 11 a.m. matchup that is the first between the schools as Big Ten Conference rivals.

"It's going to be a special day, something I'll be able to remember for the rest of my life," he said. "The best thing would be to walk out of there with another win."

Prater grew up in Omaha, Neb., and was a multi-sport standout at Omaha Central High School, where he starred with his twin brother on a high school football team that worked its way to the Nebraska Class A state championship game in 2007.

Shane Prater, an all-state receiver, was lightning.

Twin brother Shaun provided the thunder, a disruptive force on the back end of the defense as he crafted his own all-state senior season.

The combination led Omaha Central to Lincoln's Memorial Stadium and a spot in the state title game against Millard North.

Shane Prater caught a 24-yard touchdown pass to give Central a 12-0 lead 3 minutes into the game. Shaun Prater played solid defense and when the game was over, Omaha Central was celebrating a 26-21 win and a state championship.

"It's still one of the biggest thrills of my life. The chance to go back there and play again, I'm looking forward to it."

Growing up, Prater entertained thoughts of playing for the Cornhuskers, but former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan wanted more size from his cornerbacks than Prater, then 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, could provide.

The scholarship offer he sought never came.

Callahan's tenure with the Cornhuskers ended shortly after the Prater brothers hoisted a state championship trophy and his replacement, Bo Pelini, tried to coax Shaun Prater out of the verbal commitment he had made to Iowa with a late scholarship offer.

Prater took an official visit to Nebraska in January of 2008, but then chose to honor his commitment to the Hawkeyes.

"It was tempting," Prater said. "I always pictured myself being a Husker, being on the back end of the blackshirts defense. I thought about it, but I had made a choice and I stuck with it."

Prater has 41 tackles this season for Iowa and returned his only interception 89 yards, but he has helped provide quickness and senior leadership from his cornerback position.

"He's giving us good help on the back end of our defense," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We have some young guys back there, but he has helped everybody stay on the same page and push forward."

Prater hopes to continue that push today.

Plenty of friends and family will be watching. He has been flooded with ticket requests in recent weeks, guessing that around 40 acquaintances have inquired.

"I've been asking everybody on the team to help me out as much as they can with any extras they have," Prater said. "That's been tough. This week, I'm doing everything I can to focus on the game. That's where my thoughts need to be and that's going to be a tough assignment, too, but I'm looking forward to it."

Separate ways

After enrolling together at Iowa as freshmen in the fall of 2008, the football careers of twins Shaun and Shane Prater followed different paths.

Shaun Prater saw time on special teams and as a reserve cornerback as a true freshman, while Shane Prater redshirted.

Academic issues led Shane Prater to Iowa Western Community College for the next two years. He was on the roster at Texas A&M-Kingsville, a traditionally-strong NCAA Division II program, as a junior receiver this year but recorded no statistics.