By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — If you trap McAlester senior Caden Pratt in the backfield, tackle him quickly. Because once he stretches out those long legs of his, Pratt has a whole arsenal of jukes, shakes, cuts and sidesteps at his disposal.
Any one of those moves can turn a would-be tackler into a spectator. And once Pratt gets into open space, those moves can turn entire teams into spectators.
“It just depends on how he’s approaching me,” Pratt said Thursday. “I don’t think in my head, ‘juke right’ or ‘juke left.’ It just happens.”
Though born in Ada, Pratt moved multiple times in his childhood as his father, Bryan Pratt, moved to new coaching jobs at new schools. Muskogee, Owasso, South Grand Prairie in Texas — Caden Pratt never spent more than a couple of years at any one place until Bryan Pratt took over at McAlester.
“I’d never known any different, so I just kind of went with it,” Caden said. “As long as I got to watch football Friday nights, it didn’t really matter to me.”
Caden started in the McAlester school system in the fifth grade. Though he’d always been around football players, he said he didn’t start playing competitive football until the sixth grade because his father didn’t want him to burn out too early.
Bryan Pratt has coached Caden since the beginning, and Caden said he picked up many of his jukes playing in the backyard with his father. Though Coach Pratt may get on Caden in practice, Caden said the two make sure to leave practice at practice, making sure the coach-player relationship doesn’t affect them as father and son.
“He knows that if I had a bad practice, he knows that I know that I didn’t play well,” Caden said. “He doesn’t have to tell me.
“A bunch of people say that it’s weird for your dad to be the coach, but it really hasn’t been weird to me.”
Caden said he started his career as a running back, playing with fellow Buffs senior Cade Harkins on a Boys & Girls Club team that made its league’s Super Bowl and gave Caden his first taste of the atmosphere at Hook Eales Stadium. He moved to quarterback in the seventh grade, then switched to receiver once he got to McAlester High School, making varsity as a freshman and getting on the field on special teams and at defensive back.
Caden can still remember his first tackle as a Buffalo, made on special teams during the 2010 season-opener against Durant at Hook Eales.
“I had no idea it was going to be like that,” Caden said. “I never wanted to play another freshman game after that point. It like consumed me.”
While Caden enjoyed some success his first two years, his breakout year came as a junior in 2012. He took over as quarterback midway through the first quarter of the Buffs’ season-opener against Stillwater, then went on to record about 2,800 all-purpose offensive yards.
“I guess you could say I got in my zone, and then I realized that it was my time to step up,” Caden said.
“Definitely had to get in a groove with all my teammates, and we seemed to work things out pretty well.”
The accolades didn’t end when the 2012 football season ended in the state semifinals. Caden took home regional and state powerlifting titles in March, setting a national record in the 132-pound weight class and helping the Buffs win State in Class 5A, then finished fourth in the state in the long jump at the 5A Track & Field State Championships in May.
Having finished second in the state in powerlifting as a sophomore, Caden said he wasn’t surprised by his title. But having never competed in the long jump before last spring, that success came a little more out of the blue.
“If you push yourself in off-season football, you’re going to be able to compete in whatever sport you want,” Caden said.
Caden said he wasn’t sure if he’d do powerlifting or track his senior year. After playing sports year-round for so long, he said he might prefer to leave his after-school schedule blank and just enjoy his last few months at McAlester High School.
It’ll be a short-lived respite for Caden, as he’s already received scholarship offers from several schools, including Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Lindenwood University in Missouri and the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland. Pratt said he plans to study business in college, then open up an auto repair shop, ideally back in McAlester.
“I would not pick any other place in the United States to play football,” Caden said.
“I look at everyone in this locker room as family.”
In his spare time, Caden said he loves cars. He and teammate Mikey Verner have even been rebuilding a 1968 Ford F100 pickup truck.
Most people at some point in their lives will do something dumb and have to pay a price for it. But not every person who does something dumb learns from it.
Caden did something dumb during a 2012 game against Booker T. Washington. Following a botched fake punt, a Booker T. player started talking trash, and Caden punched him in the stomach.
The hit resulted in an immediate ejection, followed by a two-game suspension.
After serving his suspension, Caden still played with the same fire with which he’s always played, but he found a way to channel any anger or frustration into his performance. He came back from the suspension better focused, smarter and more mature, and he hasn’t been ejected or suspended since.
“I think it was a wake up call for him, and it probably was the best thing that ever happened,” Coach Pratt said of the suspension.
“He’s a special kid, and I’m lucky not only to be able to coach him, but also to call him my son.”
As a sign of how much Caden’s grown in a year, consider the Top of the World Scrimmage in Norman in August. During a sequence against Deer Creek, Caden found himself on the receiving end of some trash-talking and even some pushing and shoving.
This time around, Caden just walked away.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.