Confident Prater spearheads new look Hawkeye secondary


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If Shaun Prater has his way, each of his teammates on Iowa’s starting defense will share his ultimate goal this fall.

Win a national championship.

Sure, it’s lofty and maybe even unreasonable. The Hawkeyes lost 26 seniors — including Derrell Johnson-Koulianos — from a 2010 squad that only went 8-5. Realistic to the outsider or not, people would be hard-pressed to doubt Prater when they hear the words come from his mouth.

The 5-11, 180-pound senior cornerback may not be the most physically imposing Hawkeye, but he may be the most confident.

And that goal is one of the biggest reasons he chose to return for his senior season. Prater heavily considered forgoing his remaining eligibility and entering the 2011 NFL draft, but he announced via Facebook and Twitter on Jan. 11 that he would come back. Even then he wrote; “let’s go get that National Championship hawks!!”

“I have a chance to come back and be a senior,” he said on March 30, explaining his thinking when he was weighing his options. “I have a chance at my No. 1 goal — win a national championship — and lead my team to that ultimate goal.”

Helping Prater attempt to reach that goal will be some new faces in the defensive backfield. And the old faces — or face — may even be in a new place.

Micah Hyde, who started 13 games at cornerback last season, is the only other returning player besides Prater who boasts substantial experience. But he may move to one of the safety positions — both of which have been vacated with the departures of Tyler Sash (NFL draft) and Brett Greenwood (graduation). Those two players combined to start more than 80 games in the Black and Gold.

Said head coach Kirk Ferentz on March 23; “We might fool around with that. We’re just going to look for the best combinations.”

The junior from Fostoria, Ohio, native lined up at free safety with the first-team defense during a practice on March 30 that was open to the media. Prater said Hyde doesn’t appear out of place.

“I see Micah back there back-peddling and breaking sometimes; he just makes it look so easy,” Prater said. “He’s doing well, and I see good things coming out of him from that position.”

Senior Jordan Bernstine and a name most may not have heard — Collin Sleeper — split time at the other safety spot during that practice. The junior walk-on from Solon is slotted as the starting strong safety in the team’s spring depth chart.

As Ferentz said, “Sleeper is the right name. He’s kind of been lurking in the background.”

Spring depth charts can sometimes carry very little long-term meaning, but Prater said there’s a reason Sleeper is listed where he is.

“He’s still learning, but honestly, he’s a guy who can get in there and get the job done,” Prater said of Sleeper. “He’s learning, but he’s a guy who will give it everything he has every single practice, and he will never quit.”

In contrast, Bernstine is a player Iowa fans are probably very familiar with — but not necessarily for the reasons they hoped. The Des Moines native entered the program ranked as the nation’s 51st best overall prospect in the class of 2007 by Rivals.com. In three seasons, he’s yet to start a single game, though his progress was hampered heavily by a devastating broken foot suffered his sophomore season. Approaching his final chance to make an impact as a Hawkeye, Bernstine looks like a senior with a sense of urgency, Prater said.

“When that window gets tight, I think it usually brings the best out of players,” Ferentz said March 23.

There may be no better candidate than Prater to lead a group that appears so clouded in mystery. Senior defensive tackle Mike Daniels gave him perhaps the most important compliment — Prater makes his teammates better.

“Have a player like Shaun coming back, with the energy he brings to the field, to the game, to the practice field, to the meeting room, lifts, speed work, classroom, whatever he does, he brings it,” Daniels said. “It influences everyone around him to do the same.”

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