By JOEL COLEMAN
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A little over a year ago, after quarterback Dak Prescott and his Mississippi State Bulldogs had toppled Auburn to all-but-certainly become the nation’s top-ranked team, MSU’s signal caller headed to dinner.
What started out as casual trip for some pizza turned into much more. It was then that Prescott realized what those around him had already seen. This small-town Louisiana boy, who just five years previously trekked northward to Starkville, was now the face of Mississippi State football.
“I remember going in Lost Pizza and people mobbed me and were clapping when I walked in and it kind of hit me,” Prescott said. “Then as the season went on and we kept winning, more fame kept coming along.”
Such is the price for setting 38 school records and becoming one of the Southeastern Conference’s all-time greats. Prescott’s achievements are, by now, well-documented. Only four players in FBS history have passed for 60 touchdowns and rushed for 40 in a career. Prescott is one of them. Four SEC players have accounted for 110 career touchdowns. Again, Prescott is among them. Just five players in the history of the league have recorded 11,000 career yards of total offense. You guessed it. One of the five is Prescott.
For all the on-the-field success he’s had, none of it came over night. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen recalls one of his first encounters with Prescott. Out of Haughton High School, Prescott was a raw talent, but possessed qualities that immediately captured Mullen’s attention.
“In camp, I had concerns about him running and throwing but I realized he had the ‘it’ factor,” Mullen said. “So knowing that, if he’s got the ‘it’, we can maybe coach the other things because he had the desire to do the other things.”
Prescott may have been surrounded by more gifted players back then, but he was already showing flashes of the torch-bearer he would one day become.
“He’s around all these other four-and-five-star, high-profile guys and he separated himself in his leadership and his work ethic,” Mullen remembered. “It wasn’t his performance, but how he carried himself and led all these other guys.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Prescott redshirted his first year on campus in 2011, but immediately became a contributor in his first season as an active player.
By the end of his sophomore season, Prescott was already a Bulldog legend. He overcame an injury to enter the Egg Bowl in the fourth quarter and spark MSU to a come-from-behind, overtime win against Ole Miss. A month later, he was named the Most Valuable Player in the Liberty Bowl.
Last season, he took the Bulldogs to the top of the national polls and now, with a win in Wednesday’s Belk Bowl against NC State, could give MSU its first back-to-back seasons of nine or more wins in the 116-year history of the program.
“It’s the reason I came to Mississippi State to help the program become a winner,” Prescott said. “I wanted to change expectations and help everyone believe in themselves and the people around them.”
With all the success has come the attention. Even before his fateful evening at Lost Pizza and certainly afterwards, Prescott reached celebrity status. He frequently attends other Mississippi State sporting events, but as soon as he’s spotted, the lines for selfies and signatures begin to form.
Even trips to the grocery store get turned into photo ops.
No Mississippi State player has ever been sought out as much as Prescott. Perhaps no one ever will be again. So while it may sometimes be an inconvenience, Prescott has taken full advantage of his platform, even when things have gotten strange.
“Sometimes people want you to sign weird things or take too many pictures or stuff like that,” Prescott said. “There’s awkward times. Trust me.
“But I’ve just had fun with it. I’ve made it a positive. I’ve never looked down on it or thought of it as a negative. People are coming to me because I’m doing something good so obviously, things like that are part of it and come along with it.”
Now, Prescott’s Mississippi State journey is at its end. He’ll put on the maroon and white one more time Wednesday and close the book on the greatest individual Bulldog story every written.
Prescott has had time to prepare for the moment. He says tears aren’t likely.
“It’s exciting, not emotional,” Prescott said. “Everything has just come together. It’s my last time in the Mississippi State uniform and playing under Coach Mullen and playing with my brothers. I just want to make sure I go out and get a win and finish my career on a win.”
Following the game, Prescott turns the page. It’s on to preparations for the upcoming NFL Draft.
“I’m excited for the future and what’s to come,” Prescott said. “I’m ready to get this win and finish my career on a winning note, then after that let things fall in place and work my butt off.”
Then one day long after football, when the grandkids gather around Grandpa Dak, he’ll begin the story of his life by talking about his time in Starkville. He may very well still hold many of his records at that point, but that doesn’t mean he won’t stretch the truth a little as he recounts it all.
“I’m sure as a grandpa, I may say I’ve thrown a few more touchdowns than I had or more yards than I actually got,” Prescott said.
Wherever Prescott’s future takes him in the meantime, he says a part of Mississippi State will always be with him.
“It was five years of my life that made me who I am,” Prescott said. “I’ll always have that maroon in my heart.”