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Former Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater was given a second chance in the NFL after a substance abuse-related misstep almost cost him his career.
In December of 2013, Matt Prater seemed limitless. After kicking a record-shattering 64-yard field goal against the Tennessee Titans, Prater helped secure his team’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1999.
Although the Denver Broncos would go on to lose that Super Bowl game, the team still fostered an impressive roster as they prepped for another record-breaking year. Prater, boasting the title of most accurate kicker in the team’s history, seemed virtually irreplaceable for a team that was on its way up.
In just one night, all of that potential screeched to a halt when Prater tested positive for alcohol in his system after already having strikes against him for a prior DUI.
The NFL’s tight regulations on substance abuse coupled with Prater’s history of alcohol-related infractions put his dazzling future with the Broncos in jeopardy as he faced a four-game suspension at the start of the season. Just before his next opportunity to lace up his cleats, Prater was released from the team.
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Prater wasn’t willing to let one mistake ruin his future. With encouragement from his family and a newfound opportunity to focus on his recovery, Prater voluntarily enrolled in a rehabilitation program at Hazelden in Naples, Florida. Hazelden, which partnered with the Betty Ford Clinic in February, is one of the oldest and most reputable substance abuse treatment centers in the country.
During his time in rehab, Prater strengthened his resolve to stay sober and get his life and football career back on track. After Hazelden, Prater met with the coach of the Detroit Lions to prove his dedication to the game and explain the steps he’s taking to ensure alcohol wouldn’t be a problem in the future.
The heartfelt, hourlong conversation worked. The Lions, who signed Prater as a free agent in 2006 before he started his career with the Broncos, chose to bring on the kicker once again.
“I am one who believes in a second chance,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. Noting that he has also had second chances in his life that changed him for the better, Caldwell empathized with Prater and implored others to do the same.
Prater takes responsibility for his actions while looking firmly ahead.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked down and learn the hard way with life,” Prater said. “I’m thankful that I have a second chance here and learn from all the mistakes I’ve made in the past and will not repeat them.”
Breaking the cycle of addiction is never quick nor easy. Prater recognizes that he’s going to have to make significant lifestyle changes in order to stay on the straight and narrow. As he starts fresh in a new city, Prater said he’s going to focus on new ways to socialize and find things to do that don’t involve alcohol.
His plan for sobriety includes:
Prater knows there’s a lot riding on his sobriety. The NFL’s zero-tolerance policy means one drink could lead to indefinite suspension, but the Lions aren’t holding Prater on a short leash.
“I have to hold myself accountable,” Prater said.
Thanks to his strong support systems of team and family, as well as time in one of the top treatment centers and a general stubborn resolve to stay sober, Prater’s future seems to be looking back up.
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