RALEIGH, N.C. – When Germaine Pratt buckled his helmet and strapped on his shoulder pads for the first time during spring practice, it was a familiar but missed feeling that he welcomed back with open arms.
Having to redshirt a season due to shoulder surgery, Pratt watched from the sidelines on Saturdays last season, continuously craving the next time he'd get onto the field in a competitive setting.
"That adversity and what I went through made me think a lot about what I needed to do," Pratt said. "Seeing my other teammates going out there and doing good, it made me more hungry."
The wait is finally over. That time comes tomorrow, when Pratt will play in the Kay Yow Spring Game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
He's more fit for action than he's ever has been in his entire career: Pratt put on 39 pounds to weigh in at 237 for spring practice, bumped his vertical up three inches to 34.5" and obliterated his personal bests in the weight room.
Pratt, who played wide receiver in high school and free safety as a freshman and sophomore, has switched positions again, this time suiting up as a linebacker. Rather than being hesitant to accept his new role, Pratt has relished it.
"It became another opportunity for me to get to the next level so I just took advantage of it," he said.
For defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, it was a place where he envisioned Pratt thriving since he first recruited him.
"When we recruited him, we thought of him as a linebacker," he said. "Because of our depth at safety, we used him at safety to start. Always in our mind, when the opportunity presented itself, we wanted to move him."
Having a year to bulk up helped make the adjustment easier, but there was a lot more that went into that redshirt season than just becoming a physical beast: it was adjusting his mindset to jump from being a good player to a great one.
"(Redshirting) was great," Pratt said. "I had adversity because I had surgery so it was a great moment to get my mind right and get mentally tough and then focus on what I need to do better as a player and as a teammate."
One way that Pratt found he could improve his game outside of the weight room was by becoming a mainstay in the Murphy Center's film room.
"He studies football. He's always working. He's watching extra film and will even sometimes message me asking about a play," Huxtable added.
With that kind of tenacity and attention to detail, Pratt is already a step ahead of the Wolfpack's upcoming competition.
"Early on in my career, I wasn't prepared for the offense and what was coming at us," Pratt said. "If you know what's coming at you, you'll play faster and make more plays.
"It doesn't matter if it's a tackle or a guard coming at me, now I know who's coming so I can be fast and make more plays."
His coach has already seen that improved football IQ in action.
"The linebacker position is a position of quick reaction and he's worked very hard. That all starts with training your eyes and understanding your keys and he's worked very hard at it. Once he reads it and sees it, he plays fast."
An attribute that won't show up in any bio or game day program that Huxtable emphasizes is Pratt's "hunger."
"He's been out of football for a year so he's anxious to get back out on the field. He's a very hungry football player right now," Huxtable said. "He's possessed, and I see that every day in practice."
It looks like Saturday's spring game may prove to be Pratt's appetizer, but he has a full-course meal waiting for him when NC State kicks takes on South Carolina on Sept. 2.
Pratt, needless to say, is ready to feast.
Pratt's improvements made during his redshirt season:
|End of Summer 2016||460||End of Summer 2016||350|
|End of 2016 Season||505||End of 2016 Season||385|
|225 Reps||Vertical Jump|
|End of Summer 2016||20||End of Summer 2016||31.5"|
|End of 2016 Season||23||End of 2016 Season||34.5"|
|End of Summer 2016||198|
|End of 2016 Season||237|
By Ian Pierno (@IanPierno)