For the second straight year, Plato is one of the best players in the state.
From the small town of Edwardsville, Nick Plato, a tight end/defensive end, has always dreamed of playing major college football. For a second, he thought that dream was gone following that nasty car crash. Doctors were inconclusive about when he'd be able to return to the field, so a week before the season, Plato's father came up with the idea to basically red-shirt.
"I was freaking out about not playing my senior season," the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Plato said. "Then I got granted that fifth year and that kind of helped.
What's also been soothing is the scholarship offers that have been rolling in. Illinois and Colorado, the two schools that offered the first time around have offered again. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Purdue have also stepped to the table.
"I've been talking to Oklahoma, Florida, Miami, LSU, USC, Texas A&M, California and Notre Dame," Plato said. He was in for Notre Dame's first junior day, and most schools like him as a tight end including the Irish.
Now that Plato realizes his dream of playing major college football is inevitable, he was living a teenager's dream this past fall. The one thing he had to do to be granted the extra semester of eligibility, was drop out of school the first 18 weeks.
Plato would wake up, go to rehab (he says he is back to 90 percent now), run home, watch some television, and then head to Edwardsville High football practice and help with anything he could. He didn't have to take any tests to study for, or any homework to do, and his GPA remained 3.0.
"That was good," Plato said with a laugh.
But then, Plato got bored, and was real happy to return to school after the holiday break.
"After a while it really sucked," Plato stated. "I was kind of really looking forward to going back, because that whole time I was sitting out that first semester, I was sitting at home not really talking to anyone, not really doing anything. It was easy to get back into the swing of things."
Plato just hopes it's that easy on the football field. He hasn't taken a hit since his junior season.
"I just want to get some pads on and hit something," Plato said. As a junior, he caught five passes for 125 yards (25 avg.) in a running offense, and helped pave the way as a blocker for Minnesota signee E.J. Jones to rush for 1,589 yards. As a defensive end, Plato had 34 tackles including five sacks and four more tackles for loss. He forced two fumbles and recovered one, returning it for a touchdown.
Plato was hearing from doctors that he could maybe return to the team by week seven or eight. With the injury, Plato was scared about his scholarship offers, didn't know what was going to happen, and was comfortable with his father's master plan.
Plato's coach knew a couple people at the IHSA, and the day after they petitioned, the positive ruling was passed. Then he got in touch with Illinois and Colorado.
"Me and my parents didn't know what to do about it, and what to tell them," Plato said. "I took the red shirt and told them afterwards. They told me they would've stuck with me."
Notre Dame coaches came by the school to check on Plato before the injury. At junior day in January, head coach Charlie Weis told Plato they would be in touch following national signing day. Since then, he has been in regular contact with assistant coaches Rob Ianello and Corwin Brown.
"We've been talking about a scholarship, and they have been telling me about how many tight ends they are taking in this class," Plato said. "Pretty much, they told me they are going to take two tight ends and it was kind of battle between me and two other kids."
Plato said he is expecting an offer soon from Notre Dame, as well as Oklahoma, Miami and LSU. He lists his favorites as those four schools, USC and Illinois. Plato also said that most schools are keeping in touch with his doctor, and that Ianello wants to get a look at his arm during Notre Dame's summer camp.
Just Colorado, Rutgers and USC have expressed an interest in recruiting Plato as a defensive end. Colorado has told him he can play whatever he wants, and Plato is a heavy lean towards tight end.
"I've been looking at the other players in the nation, and I think I am one of the top tight ends," Plato said.
"I'd say a little bit of everything," he said when talking about his strengths. "Blocking wise, once I get on you, you're blocked. Blocking is my big strength, and we didn't really throw a lot to me, because we had a good running back we always gave the ball to."
Plato reports a max bench press of 275 pounds, and a max squat of 400 pounds, and a 4.82 40-yard dash time.
He has been to a ton of junior days, and Notre Dame stands out.
"For one, they have great tradition," Plato said. "They have great academics. I'd like to make it to the next level, but if I didn't, I'd have a great degree from a great school to get a job."
Those are other dreams. The original dream of playing major college football is back intact.