There’s a reason Germaine Pratt wears a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt all the time, even under his shoulder pads during practice.
It’s not an homage to legendary NFL coach Bill Belichick, and the junior linebacker from High Point is not a particularly huge fan of the video game “Assassin’s Creed.” Instead, Pratt wears a hoodie – he has two actually, he rotates between a red and a gray one – for a more practical reason.
“It makes me focus more,” Pratt said. “When I was injured, I was by myself. I’m not saying that I didn’t have help, but when I have my hoodie on, it makes me remember what I went through.”
Pratt had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in July 2016. Between rehab and a position switch (he began his career at free safety), Pratt and his coaches figured it would be best to redshirt last year.
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N.C. State returns eight starters from last year’s defense, which ranked in the top 30 in scoring, total yards and rushing. Senior defensive end Bradley Chubb is the headliner, but Pratt could be in for a breakout role this season.
Pratt put in a lot hours to get ready for his return this season. Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable describes Pratt as a “gym rat.” Strength coach Dantonio Burnette said Pratt was one of the standouts in the team’s developmental program last season.
“It’s amazing when you buy in, the changes that you make,” Burnette said.
Pratt weighed 195 pounds when he was rated as one of the best players in the state his senior year at High Point Central in 2013. He has 237 pounds on his 6-3 frame now. It’s a lean 237, Burnette points out. Pratt’s one of several key players on defense who excelled in Burnette’s offseason conditioning program.
“He’s a good-looking dude,” Burnette said.
Pratt’s on the proverbial list, with defensive tackle Kentavius Street, of the players you’d send off the bus first to intimidate the opponent.
“He has done a remarkable job,” Huxtable said. “He is big, he’s strong. I think we’re going to be able to do some things with him this season that I think will really be exciting.”
The switch to outside linebacker, or the “will” position, was not that big of a leap from the secondary, but there was still an adjustment for Pratt. He had to learn more about where blockers were coming from and how to work with the middle linebacker.
Huxtable had great success in the second half of the 2014 season with Rodman Noel at the “will” spot. Pratt fits the same mold as Noel, who was second on the defense with 12 tackles for loss in ’14.
“They’re both athletic and long,” Huxtable said of Noel and Pratt. “And they both started off as safeties.”
More than anything, Pratt’s ready to get back on the field. He played in each of his first two seasons without using his redshirt year. Looking back, on the decision to redshirt last year, he’s pleased with the way it worked out.
“You just don’t want to jump out and waste a year if you’re not fully ready,” Pratt said.
Pratt has put in the work to get ready for Saturday’s opener with South Carolina. Even in the unbearable heat this month during practice, you can see the hood of his sweatshirt peeking out from the top of his shoulder pads.
After a recent practice, the sweat pours through the sweatshirt. The N.C. State red looks more like an Alabama crimson with all the extra perspiration. Pratt swears it’s actually cooling and comfortable.
He also wore it in the winter, same kind with no sleeves, and pretty much for every other occasion.
“He wears it faithfully, whether it’s cold or hot or raining,” senior linebacker Airius Moore said. “It’s his thing.”
If Pratt’s work pays off when the games start, he’ll be known for more than just his hoodie.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio