MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – True freshman wide receiver Kaden Prather expected to enter a Power 5 football program and have to patiently wait his turn.
The Montgomery Village, Md. native had offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin, but opted for the Mountain State and head coach Neal Brown’s WVU Football roster in January 2021.
Almost as soon as fall camp began, the veteran wide outs had their eyes on Prather as a legitimate contender for starting time. He’s one of 18 true freshmen rostered, and the only receiver of the group. Knowing that he was coming into an experienced position room should have put added pressure on him to achieve, but when Prather found his footing at The Steve Antoline Family Football Practice Field, he was off to the races.
“[Waiting for a turn to play] wasn’t much of an issue,” he said. “I’d rather just wait instead of just being thrown into the fire. When my time came, I capitalized off of it because I was ready… As I got snaps, as the season went on, I got more comfortable.”
Redshirt junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who leads the route ahead of Prather, specifically called him out at the end of August, saying that, “Kaden Prather is really playing at a high level. They gave me the job of really just kind of mentoring him when he first came in in January, and he’s done everything I’ve told him to do. My coach is hard on me coaching him, so he knows that there can’t be a dropped ball when somebody comes in the game. He’s embraced that role, so he’s learning everything here and now, and like I said, he’s playing at a high level.
Ford-Wheaton took the freshman under his wing as soon as he stepped on campus, and Prather is grateful to have such a mentor, especially after having his senior football season suspended due to COVID-19.
“Bryce Ford-Wheaton does a good job of keeping me tight and just teaching me the ins and outs of this,” Prather said. “We’re very close. He had the job of being my big brother when I got here and not letting me make the same mistakes he made. He’s done a good job of teaching me… As a freshman, when you come in, sometimes you worry about the wrong things and you regret them later when you get older and that’s the last thing he wanted for me. He’s given me the keys to everything.”
Prather wasn’t used to sitting on the sidelines when he began practice with the Mountaineers. At Northwest High School his junior season, he racked up 895 yards on 42 receptions, good for nine touchdowns and the team’s scoring lead.
“We had big plans for my senior year,” Prather said. “We were the runner-up in 2019, so we wanted to get that state championship for 2020. Due to COVID, we didn’t get to get that done. [Not playing] didn’t set me back at all. My wide receiver coach and I worked from the pandemic until I left, so I came here ready.”
“Ready” is an understatement. Prather assimilated into the WVU culture immediately and assumed what he expected would be a season of learning from the sidelines. He went through WVU’s developmental program, which plays scrimmages on Monday nights, and began to shine.
“He’s fast twitchy like a slot player,” Ford-Wheaton said of Prather. “He’s 6-foot-4 and he’s already 210. He’s only had five, six months of off-field training, so there’s no telling, but his potential is through the roof.”
That potential has resulted in playing time in all 10 Mountaineer games, and starting time in two (Baylor and Oklahoma State). He’s chalked up seven receptions for 106 yards and a special teams tackle. He’s the ninth Mountaineer to put up 100+ all-purpose yards through 10 weeks, behind Winston Wright Jr., Leddie Brown, Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, Isaiah Esdale, Garrett Greene, Sean Ryan, and Tony Mathis Jr., and has a significantly-reduced snap count compared to his teammates. Even still, coach Brown sees Prather’s potential for massive success the next three seasons.
“Kaden Prather at that receiver position, he’s that guy that I thought played well on Saturday,” Brown said, reflecting on Prather’s K-State showing. “You could see it coming, and he got some balls thrown to him. It’s the hard thing about playing wide out. A lot of things have to go right for you to get the ball. He’s really played better, and I feel like he’s coming… I think he’s going to be a big-time player. You saw some of that on Saturday.”
It’s not just Brown who applauds Prather’s ascension into a reliable hash mark presence.
“He’s learned that the truth lies in the work, and so, in order to earn the right to play in games like that and play at a high level, there’s a process that has to be followed to get a young player there, that is talented,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said.
“Man what a tough time in today’s age of college football for a kid to understand that sometimes, because of all the other influences and things to get through, but it’s my belief he’s trusted us in getting him to that point, so he’s been through our developmental lift program with Mike Joseph and the weight strength staff guys,” Parker said. “He’s gotten up early when he didn’t want to and done that. He showed up on time and learned how to do that… He’s trusted the course. He’s learned how to practice really hard. He’s understood why I’ve had a foot up his…, you know? Now, the challenge is even more commitment to make sure that that stays consistent and he continues to play that way.”
Prather, perpetually discontent with his progression, is keenly aware of both his strong suits and defects. He credits coach Parker will handling him with structure and transparency.
“I had to get adjusted pretty early,” he said. “It’s been good so far though. I’ve developed very much since I’ve gotten here. Really just being consistent. That was my main problem, but as I’ve been here through the months, I’ve been getting better with the consistency, which will help my play, approach to drills, and on the field.”
Prather and the rest of the Mountaineers have two regular season showings this season, including Saturday’s meeting with the Texas Longhorns at 12 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium. With Esdale out on injury, Prather will need to step up and capitalize on his shot to become a rotation mainstay.