VAN WERT — Coming into this year, Van Wert’s Aiden Pratt wanted his senior season to be special.
In order to do that, the Cougar quarterback knew he had to put in the work in the offseason and he also understood that as a senior he would take on a more decided role of team leader. So he dedicated himself to both and it resulted in success from a personal and team standpoint and it is why he was selected 2022 Dream Team Offensive Player of the Year.
In the regular season, Pratt put up impressive numbers as he was 192 for 267 (71.9 percent) with 2,824 yards and 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. On the ground, he rushed for 597 yards on 100 carries for eight touchdowns. These types of numbers led to him being named Western Buckeye League Player of the Year and the Division III All-Northwest district offensive player of the year.
But more important to a team oriented Pratt, the Cougars went 9-1 overall and then he continued his winning ways to lead the Cougars to a regional final before Van Wert fell.
“I was looking forward to my senior season and playing with some of my best friends that I grew up with and played football with my entire life,” Pratt said. “I was interested in seeing how a few new players on the offensive line were going to work out. We had some changes and it flipped around all summer so we worked out some kinks and that was really important in our seven on sevens and I think we got those figured out going into the season.”
In addition to building team chemistry and camaraderie, Pratt invested time in his own game. Even though he had a break-out junior year, Pratt looked to hone his skills and worked with assistant coach and offensive coordinator Cole Harting.
“We just looked back at some tape and saw my footwork was a little sloppy so we really worked on my footwork and getting a more explosive ball and working on my lower half. We use the term ‘quick hips or stiff hips’ and really try to get the ball out as fast as possible,” Pratt said.
Off the field, Pratt was ready to step up as a leader and said the last two senior classes stepped up and this season it was him, and his fellow senior teammates, to provide guidance.
“Last year we had a super, super senior class who were great leaders … and not me but our whole senior class had to really step up because that class really showed us the way to play and how to practice, how to lift and do all that stuff and it wasn’t just me, but all the seniors had to take that role.
“It was a challenge at first. Practices were really dead and it seemed like people really didn’t want to be there but after we sat down together we said we have to get this thing going in the right direction.”
Pratt admits he is more of a lead-by-example type but wasn’t shy about having his voice heard when the time called for it.
“If there is something going on I won’t back away and not say anything,” Pratt said. “I’ll say it so we can all be on the same page so we can keep moving forward,” Pratt added. “I just think when people see me giving it my all that they think maybe they should or if we all give it our all, good things happen.”
Cougar head coach Keith Recker watched Pratt put in the extra time in the offseason and also saw him grow into a team leader.
“He hasn’t had to be a vocal leader,” Recker said. “We have been blessed with some great seniors the last couple of years so he hasn’t had to be a vocal leader and at times hasn’t had to be that leader by example, but going into this offseason he spent a lot of time improving himself as a player and spent more time in the weight room and throwing to receivers and just working his skills as a quarterback.
“On top of that, there were times in practice where he would step up in front of the whole team and talk to them about what we need to improve and that was really neat to improve. He has matured as a player and a person. We knew he was going to be motivated this year but to do it on the other end with leadership is really good to see.”
Recker adds that the team emphasizes what makes a “REAL” man in the Van Wert program with REAL standing for respecting all people, especially women; always doing what is right and living a life that matters. The Cougar coach points out that Pratt is a great example of that not because of the success he has had on the field but the way that he acts off the field.
“He interacts with people in the community, kids, adults and just exactly the type of person that coaches wish for. A lot of coaches just wish for a kid like this in their career and we have been able to have him for the last four years.”
Pratt added that because he also plays on the defensive line and that provides another avenue for his teammates to see his toughness, versatility and dedication coming from both sides of the ball.