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A Different Kind of Game: Loss of childhood friend gives new meaning to Tiger-Bulldog battle

By By RANDY WINTON – Sports Writer
Ordinarily, Kurt Prater would do what he normally does on a football Friday afternoon. He'd go through the inventory … checking his pads, helmet, socks, cleats and wristbands; that No. 72 jersey hanging just so in his locker.
Mentally, he'd go through the same preparations as he has dozens of times leading up to that night's kickoff. He'd spend time in that "zone" where nothing exists aside from the team's game plan and his job as a starting lineman for T.R. Miller's eighth-ranked Tigers.
Ordinarily, he'd simply go through the same steps he always goes through to get ready for those memorable Friday night battles on the stage that is high school football.
But for Prater, this week's game with Andalusia is anything but ordinary.
This was going to be the game where two kids who grew up living the dream of playing high school football would meet in a friendly competition for small town bragging rights. Here was Prater, the popular 6-2, 220 lineman from Miller against Michael Couch, the consummate community hero making his first start as Andalusia's premier tailback.
That conversation took place in July while the two played American Legion baseball. A month later, Couch was killed in a one-car accident.
To fully understand Prater's feelings coming into this clash between two talented high school football teams, one must understand this friendship. Prater and Couch had grown up together since they were 5, mostly on the athletic fields of Andalusia to play little league baseball and pee wee football and were inseparable until Prater's family moved to Brewton five years ago.
In that time, a bond was formed that will never be broken, not even by the untimely and painful death of a teenager's best friend.
How popular was Couch? His funeral in August was flooded by athletes from all over the area, including Opp, Brewton and other towns along the way. "It's like someone blew out a candle and you can't re-light it," a mother of an Andalusia player had said.
Couch was the very backbone of the Andalusia football team; great leader, great work habits, great talent.
And so it is, as Prater prepares for Friday night, he will do so with unknown emotions.
There have been the reminders since August. Pictures adorn the Prater household of two little boys growing through the years … always together. As they grew taller and stronger, one thing never changed; that winning smile and playful personality that endeared Michael to so many.
They knew they'd bump heads sooner or later, and Friday was to be the night. They had talked about it this past summer and had the usual verbal sparrings about who would get the better of whom. They looked forward to it after getting a taste in last year's game. It was Prater's first starting assignment for the Tigers and he had a great game, registering eight tackles, including one on Couch late in the game.
Typically, Kurt Prater is an emotionally-strong person, solid as a rock. But don't be surprised if for a moment Friday night, he lets down that emotional guard as he remembers and mourns for a friend.