Pratt looks back on memorable prep career
WESTVILLE – The man sitting in a lawn chair at practice rose and spoke to Guy Goodlove during a break in the preseason scrimmage.
It was a hot August afternoon in 2004, a couple of weeks before Westville would play its season-opening football game.
Goodlove remembers the exchange as if it were yesterday when – in fact – there have been 50 football games played by the Tigers since then.
"Our scout team offense was going against our varsity defense," Goodlove said, "And no one could tackle Caleb Pratt. Mr. (Jim) Skinner came up to me and said, 'I don't want to tell you what to do, but he probably ought to start.' "
Goodlove already had arrived at the same conclusion as the father of his defensive coordinator, Shawn Skinner.
Pratt has been on the field for every game the Tigers have played since that moment prior to his freshman season. His 51st and final prep game will take place at 1 p.m. Friday when Westville and Dakota play for the Class 2A state championship at Memorial Stadium. Both schools are 13-0.
"I think about that first practice almost every day," Pratt said. "(Goodlove) just threw me in there and it was shocking to me. Everybody was so much bigger than me then. I didn't expect it."
Pratt's expectations have risen considerably since then. The state's all-time leader in career rushing yards and touchdowns has led the Tigers to victory in 43 of the 50 nonforfeited games they have played during the last four seasons, but it is No. 44 that No. 33 wants most.
"We want to win Friday's game more than anything," Pratt said. "All of the records and the other stuff are nice, but winning is the most important. We want to be known as the team that won Westville's first state title."
Pratt has been doing his best to make that dream become a reality. If possible, he has been even better since the postseason began, running through, around and over some of the state's top Class 2A defenses.
"He was good during the regular season, but he's kicked it up another notch in the playoffs," Tigers junior center Dusty Zaayer said. "He's like a machine."
He has rushed for no fewer than 180 yards in each of the Tigers' four postseason games and 220 or more in three.
"He just seems more determined," Goodlove said. "He refuses to lose. He's very, very focused right now. He's turned it up to a whole different level, and it's been fun to watch."
So focused is the Tigers' star that he refuses to discuss one of the area's most asked questions: Where is he going to play college football?
"It's always been a dream and it's something that I want to do and plan to do, but it's something to be dealt with after the season and not right now," Pratt said.
The area's top rusher this season (2,852 yards) recently found out that he is knocking on the doorstep of one of the marks set by the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith. Smith accumulated 8,804 prep rushing yards while Pratt sits at 8,319 yards – good enough for the 18th-best total in high school history. Pratt's 120 career rushing touchdowns ties him for sixth all time in the United States.
"That's really cool," Pratt said. "Smith, watching him when I was younger, is pretty much what got me into football."
It won't be long before Pratt is doling out advice to his younger brothers, Logan (age 7) – who already is emulating his hero on youth football fields – and Skyler (age 4). Until then, he plans to tutor his freshman cousin Brandon, who had two big sacks for the Tigers in their semifinal win against Casey-Westfield, helping him to gain notoriety as one of the Tigers' next gridiron standouts.
"I try to do everything I can to help him," Caleb Pratt said. "He's not only my cousin but one of my closest friends, too. He has some of my same style, but he's shiftier than I am."
His best advice, however, is to enjoy the ride.
"I tell him all the time to just enjoy it," Pratt said. "It goes by really fast."
Almost as fast as the Tigers' star was on that memorably hot afternoon in August 2004.