Probably. Maybe? Even Prescott isn’t certain of his immediate plans.
“I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll have to start figuring that out!”
While he figures out how to attack the next stage of his football career, Mississippi State football must adapt to the Post-Prescott Era. Oh, everyone knew the Belk Bowl was the end of his era. The only concerns were A) would it be a successful finish; and B) how and when would Coach Dan Mullen let #15 make his exit?
Well, the Bowl was very much a success for everyone. With even MSU fans begging North Carolina State to score late and leave some time on the game clock, Prescott was able to take one last snap, hand off to Brandon Holloway, and at 0:30 head to the MSU sideline with the remaining crowd cheering. The Bulldogs won going away to earn the team trophy, and Prescott walked away with a Most Valuable Player trophy of his own.
But then, since the end of the 2013 season and for the past two campaigns, Dak Prescott has been recognized as Most Valuable Bulldog. Perhaps even the program’s MVP of all Mississippi State gridiron history? That’s a debate to be enjoyed for many a coming year.
What isn’t debatable is the impact Prescott has made on Mullen’s program. Or the Mississippi State record book, which lists his name first in nearly 40 game, season, or career statistical categories…and that doesn’t even count his Bulldog bowl game marks. And, had Mullen committed to Prescott earlier in 2013 or used him more often in ’12, the record book would be a Prescott Dog diary. But that is the sort of what-iffing Prescott doesn’t care for.
He is candid though speaking of alllll those standards set and marks made. “I’ve got high expectations of myself. So I’m not going to say it’s not something I never thought of or didn’t think could happen. But for it all to come true, it’s surreal.”
By Mississippi State standards his numbers are surreal. Yes, this can be read as a commentary on the program’s problems with offense over most of the 112 seasons. Still even the SEC books now show Prescott’s name among the elite. He also became just the fourth FBS-level player with 9,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards.
All of it at Mississippi State, a fact which cannot be under-stated. In fact, that Prescott became a Bulldog is a sort-of surreal story in itself. He was only the #70-ranked quarterback in the country in fall 2010 after all, regarded as an excellent athlete and strong runner with uncertain quarterbacking skills. There are many young men in that mold in the South, certainly, and while Louisiana State kept an eye on the Haughton, La., product they weren’t keeping in any close touch either.
Meanwhile after his first season at State, Mullen was scouring the region for one particular sort of quarterback to sign in 2011. He already had Tyler Russell prepping to take over in 2012, remember; and Dylan Favre was enrolling in 2010 too, giving a pair of touted Mississippi prep products on the roster everyone knew.
Prescott? Scouts noticed his team’s record in Louisiana 4A, impressive statistics, and a strong arm…did you also remember that Prescott threw javelin in high school? Still recruiting fans figured Mullen was just looking for one quarterback to fill a signing class slot, useful because he could enroll for spring practice depth. The cream of that 2011 class crop were supposed to be safety Dee Arrington and receiver Joe Morrow and defensive linemen P.J. Jones and James Maiden.
However, interviewed by Dawgs’ Bite right after signing day, Mullen evaluated Prescott this way: “What I saw was the demeanor, the ‘it’ factor. He came to the first camp and did a good job and we told him that. He said ‘Coach, I don’t just want to do a good job, I want to do a great job’. So he came back to the second camp and dominated. And he just had that ‘it’ on the field. He’s a winner on the field. That to me is the most important thing.”
Five years later, those February 2011 words read and ring with total truth. Prescott had ‘it’ and he became It for Mississippi State.
A year ago when Prescott powered the 2014 Bulldog to a team-transforming victory at Tiger Stadium, the subject of how he escaped LSU resurfaced. Even this fall Tiger fans grouse about the one that got away and what a difference he would have made alongside Leonard Fournette. Prescott has said that a late recruiting charge by LSU did make for a closer call in 2011.
He has not a single regret about the choice.
“I definitely thought of it,” he said after the Belk Bowl. “I can remember the conversation that my Mom actually allowed me to sign with Mississippi State. At the time I was 17, she was going to sign (per NCAA rule). LSU was recruiting her harder than they were recruiting me.
“I remember one night staying up to two o’clock and telling her I didn’t want to go jump on a team that was used to winning or something like that. I wanted to go to a team and a coach that was changing things, changing the expectations. And I saw that in Coach Mullen.” And, in Mississippi State, never you mind the presence of home-state stars Russell and Favre.
The rest as we say is history. Literally. As a quarterback there are two numbers which matter. Prescott accounted for 114 touchdowns in four seasons…and his teams won 34 games. Technically this ties what the 1939-42 teams did, and playing shorter schedules too. But in those ancient days freshmen did not play. So Prescott and his fellow four-year teammates are legitimately the winningest Bulldogs, ever. Without Prescott, it would not have been possible.
It was fascinating, even a little charming, that when this so entirely-prepared Bulldog was asked immediately after the Belk Bowl what he, himself, had meant to Mississippi State…Prescott was suddenly flustered.
“I don’t know…that’s…I don’t like to talk on myself. I guess I’m thankful for the University, they mean everything to me. I definitely can say that. And it’s a special place. A special place for a 17-year-old guy.”
It cannot be emphasized enough how special the pairing of Mullen and Prescott has been. This head coach has shown he can maximize his quarterbacks’ specific skills. Proof? The top-four Bulldogs in career passing accuracy are #4 Chris Relf, #3 Tyler Russell, #2 Tyson Lee, and alone by a long margin in #1 Prescott at 62.3%. Put another way and only exaggerating a little, Prescott completed more passes in four years than Bulldog teams saw caught in whole decades.
Prescott would have performed for any coach. He and Mullen made for something special.
“I was so thankful for him to give me the opportunity to come play here and develop me as a player, night-and-day from the time I got on campus to now when it ocmes to the schemes and everything. The person I am today is all because the University and the people.”
Well, that and Prescott himself. It’s fair to say few Bulldogs have maximized opportunity, in his sport and in his school, the way Prescott has. He departs with a book-full of records as well as bachelors and masters degrees. It wasn’t just football he was studying in alllll those Seal Center hours, after all, he was doing his on-line classwork too. That very building is another sign of how much Mississippi State has transformed during Prescott’s tenure.
Now, “It kind of seems like yesterday. Then it seems like a lifetime ago that I was in the office on my official visit and he was selling the program to me. Now here we are, five years later.”
As he said this Prescott’s voice was really rasping. But, not from final-game emotions. Dak Prescott had a more mundane explanation. See, the Bulldogs didn’t know how loud Bank of America Stadium might get.
So, “During the week I had to scream at the top of my voice two days,” Prescott explained. “I think that got to me a little bit. Now here I am celebrating with the team like I’ve got a cold!”
This weekend finds Prescott cooling-down after a long season, a long career for that matter. Football is far from over of course. Prescott will head to Mobile to play in the Senior Bowl on January 30, joining other elite quarterbacks like Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Southern California’s Cody Kessler. A year ago at this time Prescott was considering early entry in the NFL. His choice to return for a senior season has been not just the best for State but for his own development as Prescott honed his quarterbacking skills beyond typical college-spread-set to more pro-like reading and passing. A 29 touchdowns-to-five interceptions ratio in 13 games shows the wisdom of that call for college in 2015.
Now it’s 2016 and the draft looms in spring. “I’ll probably take a week off,” Prescott said. “Get a little rest, make sure my body is healthy. And actually stay a little bit in game-shape. The Senior Bowl is another game so I don’t want to transition into off-season training just yet or combine training. It’s very important for my future, it’s a big chance to get in front of a lot of scouts and exploit my talent and my ability.”
Mississippi State will miss Prescott for more than his talent and ability. There have been few Bulldogs who could compare in pure leadership and none better. And, of course, in SEC and national recognition. Without him on the roster this year, well, expect prognosticators to give State short shrift in summer predictions.
Prescott would like to think he’s changed the image of Mississippi State football. “I sure hope so. They may pick us again next year to be last.
“But this is a team, a program, a University that doesn’t listen to what people say. We just come in each and every day, work hard, give our best. And it paid off.”
It has absolutely paid off in college. Now the goal is a great professional pay off as he takes his game to the next level. To somewhere far from this campus, too, the new reality for Dak Prescott.
“It will probably hit sometime next week, when all the other guys report back to school,” Prescott said, then smiling, “And I don’t have to.”