"I Have High Expectations For Myself"

To grasp the impact Dak Prescott has made in his still-short college career, remember: he has yet to play, much less start, for an entire Mississippi State season. Yet here he is, rated a premier SEC quarterback, on the post-season awards radar…and representing his team at conference Media Days.

Surprised? Not a bit. “I have high expectations for myself,” Prescott said. Nor was he in the least uneasy taking to the stage. Well, other than trying not to damage the pants on his sharp suit worn to Hoover. Getting swarmed by the media, now, that was no worry at all for a fellow who has been chased by defensive beasts of the SEC. “Nah, y’all are a lot smaller!”

What is a lot bigger for Prescott and for Mississippi State are the summer expectations for Bulldog football. Media Days are only the initial ‘official’ sign of something Prescott has seen already. It isn’t merely media talking about the 2014 team.

“I’ve a lot of good feelings about this year. The team is excited about it, everybody around the City of Starkville is. So it will be an exciting year.”

Sure, but in July every SEC citizen is excited or at least a little optimistic. The buzz around Bulldogs this summer is a little different. Make that a lot different. Four-straight winning years with Coach Dan Mullen, including a record four-straight bowl appearances, are just the stage-setting part. What makes 2014 more exciting is a roster of Dogs who ended ’13 playing their best and are back almost intact.

It’s good to hear how others regard this team, agrees Prescott. But “We have those expectations within the facility, and those expectations are a lot higher than anybody else’s. We just want to get better, be the team we know we can be, and just go from there.”

There is no stronger single reason for such opinions than Prescott himself. He is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, could still be named to the same status when the O’Brien Award list is announced, and ought to be getting a share of votes from SEC media for leading league quarterback. Ought to be, since reporter respect can be a fickle thing and again he doesn’t have one complete season in the spotlight on his resume.

Yet he’s got a whole ‘nother year ahead to win individual awards, if that is his ambition for 2015. And Prescott made a positive impression on the press corps. Where he inspires his teammates being loud, even brash, during Tuesday’s endless round of scripted interviews he charmed lots of scribes with easy poise for the microphones. Humor, too.

“It’s fun. It’s not as bad or nerve-wracking as people have made it seem,” he grinned to a media group that largely grinned back. That’s just the sort of winning personality Prescott brings.

It’s on the field where Prescott intends to be a bigger winner. Mullen is his biggest fan. “Dak is a guy that because of his skill set, he can beat you with his arm, with his legs, he can run between the tackles and he can run in the open field. He has a lot going for him.”

2013 proved that beyond question. Despite missing two entire games and most of another with a left arm nerve problem Prescott came back strong with fourth-quarter and overtime heroics to win the Egg Bowl; and then lead the Bulldogs in a Liberty Bowl rout of Rice. When the numbers were tallied, Prescott had accounted for 23 touchdowns and 2,769 yards…wait, make that 25 and 2,822 counting the two touchdown catches on throw-back plays.

The historic stat was 829 rushing yards; most ever by a Bulldog quarterback which is saying a heckuva lot considering whose records he surpassed. And, mind, in eleven games, same as most predecessors. Having someone taking the snaps who can make his own plays happen if the called one breaks down is wonderfully reassuring for the Bulldog offense as a whole.

Thing is though, his coach would probably prefer Prescott not have to haul the ball quite so often this season. In fact, “I’d say probably 5-10% (of State’s plays) are designed quarterback runs. The defense actually dictates a lot more who is going to run the ball than we do,” Mullen explained.

Prescott is agreeable, even if he enjoys tucking and running. What he really likes though is just how Mullen’s spread-schemes suit his own aptitudes. His attitudes, too. “That was one of the reasons for going to Mississippi State, because I know the style of offense he plays with.” This style, and Prescott’s prowess on the ground, does tend to tag him as a ‘running’ quarterback in outside eyes.

So ears perked up when Mullen mentioned more emphasis on the passing game with Prescott this season. Deep passing, at that.

“I feel I’ve gotten a lot better at my deeper passes,” Prescott said. “I guess people under-estimate it but we’ve gotten a lot better with perfecting the passing game. The deep routes are just coming with timing.” As for the image, well, “I’m proven in my team and that’s about it, getting their trust. People are going to think what they want no matter what I do.”

But if Prescott does what he’s capable of with the arm all such thinking will change. It isn’t just that he himself is a better passer, having worked relentlessly on technical items like footwork along with improved recognition of defenses and matchups. Mississippi State is surrounding a passer with as gifted a group of route-runners as has been on the roster in many, many falls.

“Exactly. I have some bigger guys on the outside, with experience. De’Runnya Wilson and Robert Johnson, and Fred Brown and Fred Ross are coming along where we need them to be. We have a guy inside, Jameon Lewis, and our tight ends who are fast and can go deep and put strain on th elinebaker that tries to run with them or have that advantage on the safety inside. Yeah, it’s just the weapons we have and us perfecting everything.”

His physical talents are impressive, but what catches his coach’s eye are how the quarterback goes about business. “He has a lot going for him,” said Mullen. “But most important he has that will to win. Whether it’s in the weighroom, conditioning, watching film, he has that unbelievable work ethic. He’s a guy that is critical of himself and constantly working to improve his skill set.”

Which means as comfortable as Prescott was suited up for a press-fest at Hoover…he’ll feel even better as soon as the plane lands back at Starkville. Then he can pull on some workout gear and resume his private preparations for the junior season. A 2014 season Prescott expects himself to set the pace for Mississippi State success.

“I’m going to continue to do what I do, work hard, get better, and try to be the best quarterback that I can.”

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