By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It starts with a flash or maybe a quick bubble screen. The next thing you know there’s clipboards and hats being thrown as a look of excitement turns to disgust on opposing coaches faces.
That’s the kind of impact Stillwater High School receiver Brandon Prather has. He’s not just a playmaker — he’s a game changer. A dangerous weapon that, if used properly, can cause headaches and heartache for opposing fans.
“He’s a special football player,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “He’s got the kind of ability that you don’t see a lot. He’s got incredible ball skills from the receiver position, but he also has a knack of spacial awareness and openings. Then he’s got the physical ability to burst and get into those openings.
“He’s just got such a big-play ability. He’s that home run football player. He can catch the short route. Not everybody has the ability to run across the field and catch a pass across the middle and catch a pass on the other sideline. He can do that, but he also has the ability to take a 5-yard route and turn it into an 80-yard play. ... He is an electric football player and one of the best I’ve seen.”
Case in point: Stillwater’s first game of the season against McAlester. Prather tallied 190 yards on returns, including taking the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, and caught a team-high five passes for 50 yards in the Pioneers’ 47-34 loss to the Buffaloes Friday.
“It’s really exciting knowing that at every opportunity I can touch the ball and score,” Prather said.
Prather’s flash and pizzazz for flipping a game on its head isn’t new to a lot of teams. As a sophomore, he already was a known threat. Now he’s almost become public enemy No. 1 when it comes to opposing teams.
“I talked to a lot of other team’s coaches and they’re always like, ‘Yeah, we know we have to keep the ball away from you to have a good game,’” Prather said. “I know it’s going to happen. Me and my coaches are just working out ways so that I can get the ball more.
“I don’t like it because I like getting the ball. With them triple-teaming me and always keying on me, it makes everything harder than it has to be. But at least they know I’m a threat.”
Teams have gone to great lengths to shut down Prather in the past, doing nearly everything but putting all 11 guys around him. Yet, Prather still finds a way to have success.
It’s that area where Barnard said he’s seen the most improvement.
“That’s what the best players do,” Barnard said. “I think that’s how you begin to identify somebody truly as a special player. They know that he’s your guy and they gear their defense up to stop him or limit him and he’s still able to make the plays.”
Making plays in the spotlight in nothing new to Prather. He’s done it countless times on both the football field and track, but there’s still nothing quite like turning the game around with a big kickoff return.
“Last year we always returned the ball to the 50 or 40 — always got long returns, but never took one back,” Prather said Friday. “Right before we came out our coaches said, ‘Let’s return this,’ and I said, ‘I will.’ When I did, it was a good feeling.”
And while most teams aren’t brave enough to give Prather many opportunities, he’s hoping to at least take one more back before the season’s over.
“It’s really exciting because a lot of teams won’t kick the ball to me, but I know Midwest City will,” Prather said. “It’s exciting to see just how many times I’ll get the ball and be able to return it.”
Even if teams decide against their better judgment to kick the ball to Prather, Barnard said the Pioneers can’t always count on him to bring it all the way back.
“We have to be careful that we don’t lean on that too much,” Barnard said. “We have to make sure that we’re getting other players involved. ... We have other players that can make plays also, and we have to balance things out enough so that they can’t overplay him.”
Courtney Hughes, softball
Sarah Carpenter, volleyball
Taylor Lane, softball
Cameron Mayberry, football