Alabama will host some of its most important targets in the 2018 class this weekend for its homecoming game against Arkansas, but none will be more important than Jake Pratt.
The long snapper from Vestavia Hills (Ala.) High School is the biggest star of them all. Those closest to him say they can’t take him anywhere in the community because, without fail, the family gets stopped so people can talk to Jake.
“My mom said she can’t take him anywhere because it takes two times longer to go anywhere because Jake is just friends with everyone,” Amy Hyde, Jake’s sister, told SEC Country.
“We can’t go anywhere without Jake being recognized,” added Kathy Pratt, Jake’s mother. “We go to the grocery store, and two or three people will always say hi to Jake, and we don’t know them.”
Jake is known nationwide now after one of the best touchdown runs you’ll ever see. In Vestavia Hills’ first game this season, Jake took a handoff, bounced outside, and ran down the sideline for a score. What you didn’t see after the video ended was Jake taking the football and placing it on the 50-yard line so he could dance, dab and pump the crowd up after his electrifying play.
His sister’s tweet of Jake’s touchdown has been re-tweeted more than 53,000 times and liked by more than 186,000 people. It has been shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter and ABC News.
Jake is such a big celebrity now that film producers have contacted the Pratts to make a movie about his touchdown and his life, according to his brother-in-law, Joe Hyde.
This weekend, that superstar will be a special guest of Terry Saban — coach Nick Saban’s wife of 45 years. He and his parents will get a chance to meet the coach and various Alabama players, and they can watch warm-ups from the sideline.
He said he hopes former quarterback AJ McCarron will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday; McCarron’s Cincinnati Bengals have a bye this weekend. McCarron joins former Auburn alums Cam Newton and Bo Jackson as Jake’s three favorite college football players of all-time.
Roll Tide! War Eagle! Go other Tigers!
Yes, Jake is a fan of both Alabama and Auburn. He also likes Clemson. His favorite team at the time switches on a daily basis.
“It really just depends on who’s winning at the time and which pretty girl he likes at the time and which team she likes,” Amy Hyde said with a hearty laugh.
See, Jake has Down syndrome, but this story isn’t about that. This is about how an 18-year-old senior doesn’t live his life defined by his disability. That’s just one characteristic of what makes Jake so special. He has dreams of going to college next year. He’s going to apply to the programs for students with special needs at both Auburn and Clemson. Alabama doesn’t have a special college program, although the school does have a K-5 program called RISE, which Jake was a part of when he was younger.
One of Jake’s biggest goals is to get accepted into college. He has dreams of independent living and having his own apartment with his best friends. He also wants to get married one day and have a job. Most importantly, like every other teenager, Jake wants to get away from his parents.
“He told me the other day how he can’t wait to leave home so he could live with his friends and have a house party,” his mother said. “I asked him, ‘What do you mean a house party, Jake?’ He said that he’s going to have pizza and girls at his house party.”
Former RISE Center executive director Martha Cook called the Pratts on Monday to give them the news that they would be going to the game Saturday as guests of Terry Saban. Once Jake visits Alabama this weekend, he will have visited all three of his favorite schools. He was at Auburn last weekend, where he got to meet Gus and Kristi Malzahn, Jarrett Stidham, Kerryon Johnson and former coach Pat Dye.
Stidham tweeted about meeting Jake after the game last Saturday. That goes back to the main message I learned from talking with Jake’s family. Once you meet him, you never forget him.
When Jake was in the RISE program, he met former Alabama coach Gene Stallings on numerous occasions. Stallings is arguably the biggest advocate for the RISE, a nationally recognized early childhood education program program. His son, Johnny, was born with Down syndrome in 1962. Coach Stallings raised funds for the program and now the Stallings Center, which opened in 1994, is the program’s home.
Coach Stallings got word that Jake was going to the Alabama game this weekend, so he invited him and his family to a special fundraiser luncheon on Thursday at the Bright Star restaurant in Bessemer, Ala., because he didn’t know if he would have enough time on Saturday to spend with Jake. Mind you, Coach Stallings, 82, suffered a heart attack Sept. 29, and he’s concerned about spending time with Jake and his family. Jake’s mother called Coach Stallings “one of the most wonderful men” in this world.
Jake and his family spent two hours with Stallings and also reunited with Coach Dye, whom they met at Auburn last weekend. The pair shared a funny moment.
“Jake was talking to Coach Dye, and he asked him who he was pulling for this weekend,” Jake’s mother said. “Jake then said, ‘Roll Tide!’ Of course, Jake had just told Coach Dye, ‘War Eagle!’ the weekend before. Coach Dye looked at him and said, ‘Well, Jake, you know how to work it, don’t you?'”
— Rick Karle (@RickKarle) October 12, 2017
A part of the team
The Vestavia Hills student has loved football and sports since he began talking. He played Miracle League T-ball and Upward Basketball when he was in elementary school. When he got to middle school, he started to love football and wanted to play. At the time, though, he was very excitable and his parents and two sisters worried that if he did play, he would run out on the field when he wasn’t supposed to or get hurt.
When he got to high school, Jake didn’t give up on his dreams of playing the sport he loved. He got to be Vestavia Hills’ team manager when he was a junior. He got to wear a polo shirt and help the team with its equipment and would be there for the players on the sideline. While he loved doing that, he wanted to turn his polo in for pads and a helmet.
He played on a unified flag football team where traditional students and students with special needs play together. His team went to the playoffs, and he got to play in Auburn Arena. Jake was determined that because he showed his family that he was able to play and to listen, he could play with his friends at Vestavia.
His mother requested a meeting with the principal and the football coach heading into his senior year. They were wary at first about his health, but they have no concerns now. He’s 100 percent healthy, and the required physical he needed showed the principal and coach just that. The coach told Jake’s mother that if he could make it through spring practice, he could be on the team. So, what did Jake do when he got that news?
“Jake started to go to the YMCA by himself before spring practice began and started running and lifting weights, so he could be ready,” Jake’s sister, Amy Hyde, said. “Once spring practice started, Jake made it to every practice, ran stadiums, sprints and went through all the drills. Jake works just as hard as everyone else.
“He does all of the workouts. He does all of the drills. He does tackle drills — they obviously don’t hit him hard. He does everything with them. If they’re running stadiums, Jake is right there. They may get 50 done and Jake may get 25, but he’s right beside them. He doesn’t just stand on the sidelines. He’s a part of the team.”
His teammates and those he has met through football have turned into some of Jake’s best friends. They take him fishing and go out to eat with him. Jake has been invited to school dances three years in a row now.
There was one former Vestavia student, Daniel Collins, who went above and beyond with Jake. Daniel is two years older than Jake and now attends Auburn. Daniel texted Jake’s mother because he wanted to bring him to an Auburn game to hang out with him and his friends. Jake’s mother told Daniel’s mother what her son did and how well she raised him. Daniel’s mother told her that she didn’t teach him that. Daniel would be friends with Jake no matter if he had a disability or not. That touched her.
“When Daniel left for college, I prayed to God that he would send another Daniel Collins in our life,” Jake’s mother said. “I didn’t think there would be another one. And of course, there are five of them now.”
Jake has become a role model in the Down syndrome community, and it’s something no one envisioned when he was born. There have been significant advancements since he was born where those with the disability can integrate into schools and workplaces.
“When Jake was born, we were discouraged,” Kathy Pratt said. “One of the doctors told us that he’ll never be able to fully function in society. We never dreamed that Jake would do as well as he has.”
With all of the attention he has gotten since his touchdown, Jake’s parents want people reading this to understand that he is just like other teenagers. Though he has Down syndrome, he wants a normal life.
And, he has that. He lives life to the fullest.
“He’s just a happy, loving and enthusiastic person,” his sister said. “He loves everyone he meets. He doesn’t care what you look like, what your background is, skin color is and where you come from. He just loves people. Anybody he meets, he’s going to be their best friend within 10 minutes.”
Said his mother: “He is the happiest person I know. I’ve never seen Jake angry. He has the happiest soul. I have learned to have unconditional love for everyone from him. Everyone in this world needs a heart like Jake’s.”
So when you see Jake this weekend in Tuscaloosa, give him the warmest “Roll Tide!” you’ve ever given anyone, and prepare to become best friends with the happiest soul.
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