And soon grinning outright, walking past a large photo of himself. Or he was smiling until a trailing cameraman managed to knock the display over. That was the only way to put Dak Prescott off his balance during this second appearance at the conference media madhouse.
But of course this year’s appearance was very different. In 2014 Prescott appeared as the new full-time starting quarterback for a program with more than just sartorial questions. This year? Prescott arrived as the reigning All-SEC quarterback, acclaimed by many as the best offensive player and for that matter perhaps top overall player in the league.
And, the Bulldog who carries—or hands off, or throws—unprecedented expectations for State’s program and his own all-star status. Not that Prescott will admit to hearing hype right now…such as for that trophy given in New York to the college game’s best ball player?
“Not much at all,” Prescott said. “My name was thrown around a little bit last year I guess as a dark horse. For it to be thrown around this year in a more prominent role, I just worry about my team and being the best leader I can be, being the best quarterback I can be. I believe if I lead my team to a great season and the SEC Championship then obviously I’m doing the right things.”
Prescott and team did a lot more right things in 2014 to win a regular-season record ten victories. That was enough for a second-place finish in the SEC’s Western Division, enough to earn a #1 national ranking and Orange Bowl trip. Once upon a time that would have been enough to make all Dogs happy, too.
Not now. “We have to continue to do the things that got us to #1 last season,” said Prescott. “Everyone on the team knows exactly what it took last year to do what we did. Reaching #1 was fun, but that was only for five weeks in the middle of the season. Everyone in our program wants to finish at #1.”
It’s a sign of respect that these comments, as well as Coach Dan Mullen’s own statements of greater Bulldog ambitions, were digested by a press corps which not so long ago would have ignored the words or worse. This doesn’t mean media has enough respect to rank Mississippi State among the leading Atlanta contenders. Some still look at losses from last year’s lineup at running back, defensive end, cornerback, and most of all offensive line, and suggest this club can’t match much less exceed 2014’s results.
“I use that as motivation,” Prescott said. “I don’t care if they have us #1 or #7 (West). The people who decided that are outside of our facility.”
Inside the main interview room Prescott handled all questions with the same aplomb as he shows on the best days by the Bulldog offense. Serious queries ranged from nuts-and-bolts about the Bulldog lineup, to opinions of this schedule’s matchups, or another appearance at the Manning Passing Academy. It was telling though that one reporter called him ‘the best quarterback in the league’ and then asked if he would judge who was second-best.
“I don’t watch film of any of those guys!” he said, since Prescott’s preferred viewing is of defensive cut-ups.
Of course those defenses are watching Prescott video this summer, probably have been since January. Prescott knows he is not just a target. He is the target for everyone who must scheme against Mississippi State’s spread system.
Last year had a lot more wins than losses. Yet who-and-when of the three defeats clearly weigh much more on Prescott’s mind than the ten victories. Change either of the regular-season setbacks and State either wins the West or ties for that title. Plus, as Prescott said, what is remembered is the ending.
Do give the Dog credit though for talking about ending 2015 on top, while reminding everyone—himself included—that Mississippi State will need the same sort of flying start as in ’14 to build for a faster finish. “We’ve got to get there first. We worry about we’ve got to put ourselves in position to get over that hump before trying to worry about being champions.
And this time? “When we get to that level some of the guys on the team will now have experience in such type games. So first we want to get there, then we’ll worry about that.”
Lowest on this list of concerns is post-season honors. Certainly Prescott’s name is being called often this month as awards watch lists and preseason all-conference clubs are announced. He accepts summer stuff for what it is worth, even enjoys the respect it all signals.
But Dak Prescott does not need an all-whatever team or watch list inclusion to know: he can play this game, this league, and he can win. Will win, rather.
“Obviously at the quarterback position, just for my confidence, I’m going to expect nothing but greatness from me and my teammates. I think you’d be crazy not to expect to win a championship or to be ranked #1 going into a season. If so, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.”
Prescott and program have a bit over two more weeks before practices open August 3. Media Days was a minor interruption of the quarterback’s summer schedule, just another item of Bulldog business for the team’s undisputed leader. Prescott left the Wynfrey already thinking about the rest of the to-do list for this week. For this season.
His last season, obviously, and yes that thought has hit him a few times.
“I was running the stadium the other day at 3:00 in the afternoon, and that sun was hitting me every time you get to the top. For a second I stopped, took a deep breath and said this is my last time. Then I finished running the stadium. That’s kind of everything I do, I want one more shot at it.”
At the highest prizes, he means. As much fun as 2014 was at the time, that is not how Prescott wants to be remembered. Not just as a record-setting quarterback on some of the best Bulldog teams ever. But leader of the very best. Mississippi State got a taste of the ultimate success a year ago. But just a taste.
“It’s a lot of unfinished business. To me personally, to the team, to the coaching staff. We didn’t finish the season #1, we dropped three of the last four. I think everybody in the program, you can say Mississippi State, has unfinished business this year.”
Oh, to answer the lady's question. Yes, he can tie a bow-tie all on his own, thanks for asking.