TCD Exclusive with Kyle Prater: Shifting Gears from Football to Filmmaker

At some point in your life, you will be shifting gears. How you respond to the changes that lie ahead defines your character.

For Kyle Prater, shifting gears from playing in the NFL to being a filmmaker came unexpectedly.

In 2010, as the #1 WR coming out of high school, Prater chose to attend University of Southern California. After injuries, becoming addicted to pain medicine, and a health scare with his mother, Prater decided it was in his best interest to come back home to Hillside, IL and attend Northwestern University.

Prater would continue playing football in Evanston, but at this point was still facing setbacks and more injuries. During his time in college, Prater would undergo five surgeries for six injuries. A lot for anyone to face, especially in a five year span.

However, these would not hold Prater back. Instead, it would push him harder.

He would get drafted by the New Orleans Saints and be able to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, a dream he has been working for since he was a child. That dream, would come to an abrupt end, and he wouldn’t be able to exit the game on his terms. But with one door closing, another opens. Prater would run through that door, in what would be and is the next chapter of his life.  

On Thursday, February 7, 2019, Kyle Prater releases Shifting Gears II at ArcLight Cinemas in Chicago in front of his family, friends, the kids he coached and complete strangers.

Shifting Gears II is about Prater’s transition from the NFL to becoming a filmmaker. The trials, heartache, highs and lows of everything Prater has experienced thus far in his life.

“My story, my life, being captivated by people that I don’t even know.”

(Prater on people watching his film Shifting Gears II)
Kyle Prater working on one of his many projects. (Photo via Kyle Prater.)

Before Prater is about to screen the movie for around 60 people, he stands up in front of the crowd. This crowd was a little different from a crowd of screaming football fans. Instead this crowd is quiet, eyes locked in on Prater with a giant spotlight on him.

It would be easy to assume that this 6’5 athletic man, in a fitted grey suit rocking a pair of Jordan’s, whose played in the NFL wouldn’t be afraid of speaking to a smaller audience. Especially compared to what the Mercedes Benz Superdome can hold. Then again, this is remarkably different compared to sharing a field with 22 players.

This moment is about him.

Prater begins to speak and stumbles over his words. He looks down at the floor and says, “I’m nervous.” And almost instantly the audience at ArcLight Cinemas begins clap and says to Prater, “you got this.”

He takes a deep breath and briefly explains the film. After he concludes his statement, he runs up to the top row and presses play. The lights go dark, the film starts and Prater’s life story, told by none other than himself, unravels.

Trailer for Shifting Gears II.

Kyle Prater sat down with Jenna Duddleston to discuss the film, Shifting Gears II, produced by his company, Chasing Greatness Production.

(This interview has been cut down for length purposes.)

Jenna Duddleston: The one thing that I don’t think you might not even realize is, that you decided to just pick up a camera and figure it out. That is so unbelievably hard to do. Do you even realize how hard that is to do?

Kyle Prater: “Ya, I mean, I knew it was going to be tough, but I think, I didn’t look at it as being hard I looked at it as a challenge. Me being a competitor my whole life, I just wanted to do something different from what everybody else is doing. Being an athlete we always get put in a box, you play sports and that’s what you’re supposed to do. So meanwhile I was still working out for teams and trying to get on. You know, I picked up that camera and it was like oh this is cool this is kind of dope, make some videos, you know I just wanted more exposure for myself. It went from more exposure for myself to more exposure with other people and changing their lives. Ya, it’s just an ongoing learning process too.

“Everything else we’ve been doing our whole life has always had purpose within our life. Start living with purpose for others.”

Prater on his advice for athletes transitioning out of being athletics.

JD: As you were watching it with all these people, and it’s probably the 100th, millionth time you’ve watched it. What was going through your mind as you were watching it with other people watching it?

KP: Well, the first time I watched it, when we screened it at Soho, it was powerful. I just felt the energy in the room and everyone was so locked in, and then watching it at ArcLight I was kind of like, I messed up the intro and I was nervous… but then the film started to overcome me again, and I felt that feeling that I had at Soho and I looked around and I turned around in the movie theatre chair (Prater was sitting near the front) and I looked at everyone looking and I was like wow this is amazing to see. My story, my life, being captivated by people that I don’t even know, so it was good.

JD: How vulnerable/naked did you feel?

KP: Um, I felt really naked… I knew that I was going to really show these people my life, about my past addiction and everything that I kept hidden from people for so long. You don’t really know how people are going to receive you, but… I started thinking about who I am today currently. I know I beat it and I know I’m changing people’s lives. I know I’m giving back and that means way more to me then what people think about me in the moment. You get what I’m saying?


JD: Yes definitely! You coach high school football at Maine West. It was cool seeing your football players there and they seemed so giddy to see you in the spotlight, doing your thing and balling out. Then seeing them in the film talk about how much you mean to them and you talking about how much they mean to you. Why are those relationships that you’ve created so meaningful?

KP: It’s meaningful because one, you know, I’m blessed. I had both of my parents growing up, so a lot of those kids, some of those kids don’t have both parents. Some are one parent homes… but I want to try and make sure that the experience they had with me is the experience I had in my home… They wanted to see me in that element, but the thing is I’m still the same person. Some people get in that element and they’re starstruck or they disregard the kids. Like I shook everyone’s hand there at that event, I made sure I talked to everyone and was personable with everyone… I’ve always been that type of person, I’m all about ethics I want to treat everyone the same type. The way I’d treat the CEO and those kids saw that and knew that and I had the suit on looking nice, but hey it’s coach KP, like it’s still the same person. That’s what it’s all about.

JD: One of my favorite things from the premier was the Q&A session that you guys had. It was the last questions from a father from one of your athletes.

KP: (sighs and shakes his head) Ah, man…

JD: Ya.

KP: I lost it.

JD: Ya, and you know I think he just kind of wanted to remind you how big of an impact you made on his son’s life and he talked about his son making,

KP: Junior’s Honor Society

JD: Ya. I mean you were obviously so emotional. I think everyone was, because you realize that this is way bigger than what you’ve realized. What did his statement mean to you? (Watch the father’s statement in the video above)

KP: It let me know that I’m living a purpose and I’m doing the right thing. And that God is truly using me to help someone and tell my story. If it’s reaching him, just imagine the more people it’s going to reach when it gets the attention it deserves…. Like I invest not only my time on the field to them, but after the game’s over I call them. After work outs, “how’s training, how’s your grades? You listening to your parents? C’mon now!” I talk to them not like, not stern. I talk to them like I’m one of their friends, but they respect me and I respect them. You just have to know how to talk to these kids. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to reach them, and I feel the way I’m doing that is the right way and that just further confirmed it.


*

JD: I want to talk about USC a little bit, and obviously this isn’t the whole purpose of your story, but I feel like it could help people in a lot of ways. You became addicted to the pain medicine and when all of this was happening did you even understand what was going on in your body and in your mind?

KP: Well, at the time I was taking them I was still battling injuries and so quote on quote if I was healthy, I was still hurting somewhere, so I would still take them. And this was all just to play and perform, to prove to them that I was healthy. Not knowing that by taking it, it was killing my body, like making other areas hurt more, because I was compensating other areas wasn’t getting stronger. So at this time I didn’t know, I just knew I wanted to show them that I wanted to play … my way of coping and getting treated the way I was getting treated, pain pills. Why? I had it at my disposal. I was prescribed it and it wasn’t right at all… I’m comfortable now talking about it because I released myself. The best thing I did was leave LA, to come back home and be closer to my mom because at the time, she was sick. So everything happens for a reason, but I did not have no knowledge as to what I was doing to my body at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to play.

JD: I think you had said before every game you got a…

KP: Toradol shot.

JD: Yes, ok. You are definitely not alone in that. There are many athletes in this situation who are prescribed medicine in general to help them perform. Do you think USC should’ve been held accountable for what they did or do you think they even realized what they were doing?

KP: I think, and it’s not just USC it’s all over. I’m not blaming USC for anything, because I had to make the decision to take it…. but you gotta think, you have guys on the team doing it. Like I’m just following the trend, I didn’t know. I don’t put the schools or universities at fault, but I do think, “hey, they could be a little more watchful,” and watching these things, but you know it’s tough man. Sometimes things get turned a blind eye when you’re trying to play.

“My mom always told me, ‘you’re gonna write a book one day… and you need to tell your story,’ and I was like ‘well, look mom — we went and made a movie now.'”

Prater’s mother, Sonya knowing that her son was bound to do more then just football

JD: Why did you feel you couldn’t tell anyone?

KP: One, cause when I found out and knew it was a problem, as a person, I had pride. Everyone has pride and I just felt I knew that I was going to get over it at some point. But you know when I came home and told my parents, I had to. I had to tell them, because it got to the point where it was too bad. I started to feel it cause I didn’t have it and I came home and had no medicine and I was thinking I’m going through withdrawals and sweating…. I knew, one I wanted to get my career back and I’m transferring … I can’t go into Northwestern with this problem. I already talked about injuries, I’m injury prone this and that, I’m a bust. It’s already so much people are saying about me this time. The last thing I wanted was them to like, “Kyle’s addicted. He’s addicted to pain meds.” Like no, I’m going to go through this thing cold turkey. It’s going to be tough as hell. I did it with my family and no one else and with faith I was able to do it.

JD: What would you say to an athlete that might be in that situation right now?

KP: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. My story’s a little different, but I had a support system. But like what we talked about earlier with the kids, not everyone has that support system, but there are support systems out there in place for people that are going through addiction and stuff like that. Don’t be afraid to talk to your coach. Just don’t be afraid to talk about it period. Not just openly, but like talk to someone and catch it before it gets crazy.

JD: Alright, on to a positive note. In Shifting Gears II, I felt that the audience got to see you on a more personal level compared to the first one. Why did you feel it was important to show more of yourself?

KP: Because I think my mom always told me, “you’re gonna write a book one day,” and this was before I started filmmaking.

JD: When did she say this?

KP: She said this around the time when I broke my foot. This was like my fifth surgery and before I got resigned to the Saints. She was like, “you’re going to write a book one day and you need to tell your story,” and I was like — well look, mom, we went and made a movie now. I think that’s better than a book. But if you asked me a few years ago, that you’d be a filmmaker making a movie talking about your addiction, talking about how you’re inspiring people and about how you’re giving back to your community, I’d probably be like nah, I’m going to be catching some touchdown from Drew Brees or someone you know. Would you do it all over again? Ya, because it made me who I am today. It made me the person who’s talking to you today. So I am definitely appreciative of everything that happened.

JD: I feel that sometimes, you as a filmmaker and storyteller, you can’t tell other people’s stories in a really meaningful way until you can tell your own in a meaningful way. How do you think that the future stories that you tell are going to be different post Shifting Gears II?

KP: I’m glad that I did this film, because if someone asked me somewhat of a similar question now that you told your story, what’s next? It’s like now, this is what I want to do! I want to tell other people’s story. There are other athletes with the same story or somewhat similar, let me tell it…. now I think that I can tell my story and like you said, it’s allowed me to be able to really be open and telling others stories.

JD: So long term goals for Chasing Greatness Production? Are we thinking maybe working towards an Oscar one day?

KP: Heck ya! I think it’s possible. I think you know, like you said earlier, I don’t have a degree in film. I didn’t go to school for anything that I’m doing now and basically what that’s saying is opening up the doors for others kids that don’t have a degree in that field because I literally went to the college of youtube.

JD: (laughing) That’s so funny and it’s so true!

KP: It’s true! I mean, I went on youtube and I just wanted it. It’s just a mindset I wanted to learn, learn and learn. I went out and bought camera and just shot. Trial and error. You know I want that to be a deacon of hope for other people like that.

JD: What advice do you have for athlete’s transitioning out of being an athlete?

KP: My advice for someone transitioning out of playing…  just be patient. You know, don’t ever give up…. I was fortunate enough to pick up a camera and God gave me a sign that this is what I want you to do. I could have easily said, nah God, this isn’t what I want to do. I want to catch touchdowns. That’s what I should be doing. That’s what I wanted to do. When I started to live for others, that’s when it just started to solidify for me. So for the athlete that is transiting like make sure you have a purpose in what you’re doing, because everything else we’ve been doing our whole life has always had purpose within our life. Start living with purpose for others and I think everything else will come into fruition.

JD: Is there anything you feel like people should know about you that you feel I didn’t get to ask you or something you feel is important for people to know?

KP: I just want people to know that it’s not about the glitz and glamour or fame. It’s not about all the accolades, it’s really about living a purpose. And as far as everything after that, it’ll come.

Jenna



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