When Kyle Prater — a former five-star recruit from Proviso West — retired from the NFL, he bought a camera. Nothing fancy, but it was an upgrade from his iPhone.
That might not seem like a “life-changing purchase,” but to the up-and-coming filmmaker who was shifting careers, it did change his life.
“If you were to ask me [if I had dreams of becoming a filmmaker] a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Prater said. “I was 100 percent invested in making it to the NFL and playing eight to nine years.”
Until this point, football had been Prater’s compass guiding the direction of his life, and he was convinced he’d be an exception to the idea that NFL stands for “not for long”.
Thursday evening Prater will hold a screening of his latest film, “Shifting Gears II,” at ArcLight Cinemas in Lincoln Park.
Prater’s football career would be an example of how fleeting life in the NFL is and his two-part documentary explores the details of that. It puts the challenges he faced on and off the field with injuries and other personal battles on full display, and tells a story of how one dream can guide you to another.
Prater is still one of the highest recruited athletes the Chicago area has seen in the last 20 years. By the time he was a senior in high school in 2010, he was the No. 1-ranked wide receiver in the country.
In his 10 years of playing football at that point, he had never suffered an injury. Between 2010 and 2015 in his time with USC and Northwestern, Prater had five surgeries for six injuries.
At the end of his college career, he had just one productive season before the 2015 NFL Draft. He went undrafted, and after two brief stints with the New Orleans Saints in 2015 and 2016, the compass that once unwaveringly pointed him toward a professional football career began to shake.
“It was mind-blowing to me all of the injuries he had,” said Prater’s mother, Sonya. “After he left the Saints the second time, he told us, ‘I’m just going to let it go. I’m going to overcome this situation with football and dive into film.’ ”
Prater had no filmmaking experience other than workouts he shot on his iPhone. That’s how this all started. He wanted to hire someone to film him training, and after learning how much it would cost, Prater decided he could do it himself.
He soon discovered he had a rare eye for creating.
He launched his company, Chasing Greatness Productions, in the fall of 2016 and has since produced and directed five films, including “Shifting Gears II.” He also creates content for a list of clients that includes former Bears running back Matt Forte. Along with running his company, Prater is a wide receivers coach for Maine West.
It’s been almost three years since Prater decided to shift from playing professional football. In all that time, it wasn’t until this NFL season that he was finally able to let go of who he was as a football player and embrace who he is as a filmmaker.
“I went to a Monday Night Football game this past year to see a friend of mine, Brandon Marshall,” Prater said. “We have the same build, the same size, we move the same way on the field. I was able to compliment him without thinking of what I could do on the field. It’s tough to let a game go, but that moment right there let me know I’m at peace with it.”