“Hi, Dak. I’m Mike Slive. I work for the SEC.”
He’d been told to prepare for all kinds of questions and reporters, but Dak Prescott probably didn’t expect the first person he talked to after leaving the holding room to be the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, one of the most powerful people in college sports.
Especially not 10 minutes after we’d been discussing what happens when you have to go the bathroom during a game. (You just hold it, I’m told.)
And sure, Dak had a nametag on – as well as an SEC worker standing nearby carrying a poster with his picture and name blown up on it – but Slive knew who he was either way.
Dak is a star now, and SEC Media Days proved it.
Everyone knows his story. A miracle comeback to win the Egg Bowl in overtime, a Liberty Bowl blowout which set double-digit offensive records, and of course his strength in the wake of personal tragedy. His big smile has been plastered all over TV and the internet, while his name and numbers have been plugged into award watch lists and All-SEC ballots.
But this, SEC Media Days, the largest gathering of the year in college football, 1,200 strong, was Dak’s first time in the actual spotlight – the kind cast by cameras on a set or from lights on the ceiling of a ballroom rather than bulbs from stadium lightpoles.
From inside Starkville, it can be hard to tell if someone really is a star, if their stage is the national kind. Us around here have seen him since he got to campus as a big-eyed freshman who other schools wanted to try out as a tight end.
Is he really that big a deal, or does it just seem that way here in town?
Tuesday in Hoover answered the question.
“When any of us think about Dak Prescott,” a Sirius/XM host began, “we think about that incredible performance coming off the bench in the Egg Bowl.”
“People called that a miracle,” someone in the internet room told him.
“Everyone knows who Dak Prescott is,” former Alabama and NFL quarterback Greg McElroy said in succinct summary.
Then he asked the big question: “What are you gonna do as an encore?”
Such was the wonder on the minds of most at the Winfrey Hotel.
“Is it your time now?” one reporter asked, curious if Dak will take the mantle as star of the SEC.
Comparisons to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton rained down all day – Heisman winners, both.
And oh yes, that word. Heisman.
“Last year you were a backup, and now you’re being touted for the Heisman,” one reporter told him.
More of a statement than a question really, but accurate, nonetheless.
His answer, on the many occasions the topic was broached, was what it should have been. Basically, he says, that’d be pretty cool. But it won’t happen if MSU isn’t winning games, and that’s where his focus lies.
“I never heard of a Heisman winner who lost five or six games,” Prescott said after the first time he got the question.
Those aren’t cheap words or canned answers, either. At least not according to his teammate, Jay Hughes.
“His goals are bigger than himself,” Hughes told a reporter when asked about people saying his teammate could win such a grand individual award.
“Win every game,” Dak said simply.
That’s all he wants, and that’s part of why he’s so good.
The way Dak seems to deflect attention only garners more of it.
“They’ve been asking me about you all day,” Hughes told Prescott at one point as they passed on their way to different interviews. “I’m tired of talking about you.”
He was joking about the second part, but the first is true. Dak is all anyone in Hoover wanted to talk about. Steve Spurrier, the ol’ ball coach himself, was walking around cracking jokes. Autonomy, the O’Bannon trial, scheduling and scandal – all hot topics, none as interesting as Dak. Not that day, anyway.
Wherever he went, people gushed.
“I wish I had as much talent as you,” McElroy told Prescott on air after he had rushed out of another interview to join the radio chat. “I came back because I had to meet you. I’m a fan, buddy.”
“Continually impressed with Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott,” ESPN.com’s Alex Scarborough tweeted. “He’s taken the leadership role and run with it.”
“People say you have the ‘It’ Factor,” one reporter observed.
In his very first interview of the day – a radio hit – Dak’s presence was felt.
“Only 6’2”?” the host asked as he looked up at Prescott. “You look a lot bigger than that.”
And his responses are what makes him so endearing.
“I think that’s an old measurement,” he said, the natural toothy smile coming out in a somewhat sheepish way. “I know I’ve grown because my suit pants don’t touch my shoes anymore.”
He went on to praise his teammates, coaches and defense – all when answering questions about himself. He talked about his favorite dish to make, chicken and shrimp tortellini.
We found out his favorite color is silver, he has some Native-American ancestry, his preferred activities outside of football are shopping and eating, his first name is Rayne and he has to have fried chicken the night before every game.
Leaving a TV interview, he turned to one of the assistants and said, “Thanks for the makeup.”
Asked to recite the longest playcall in MSU’s playbook, he paused for a minute, looked at his hands and finally said, “Well, I guess that’s what we have the wrist bands for.”
When he was in the room with FOX Sports for a segment, the taping got started late because he and the host had gotten so deep into conversation they nearly forgot where they were and what they were supposed to be doing.
Dak smiled in the main room when he saw the local media who cover him every day.
“Familiar faces,” he remarked with the same smile he wore all day.
He’s smooth, even though he doesn’t mean to be – genuine and without intention or motive.
In response to the question about his “miracle” comeback from injury in the Egg Bowl, Dak unconsciously slipped in a reference to the official provider of athletic gear to his team.
“We wear Adidas, so nothing is impossible.”
He praised his teammates and spoke of his love for Starkville, because he means all of it.
Most of all because none of this has inflated his head, as it so easily could and has done to others. All the stories, all the attention and tweets, even to the point of media asking to take pictures with him – it’s enough to make anyone’s head turn.
But he’s still just as kid, in a manner of speaking, having fun and playing the game he loves.
“Have you taken any pictures?” he asked me midway through. “I don’t have my phone.”
He’s not above the moment. He thinks it’s cool, neat that he’s there. He’d love to show pictures to family and friends of what he did.
“I know who I am,” Prescott said when someone asked about his newfound and growing fame. “Nothing in me has changed.”
So, as he was asked when the day started, what’s the encore for Dak Prescott?
Media Days was something he had to do, and was perfectly happy to participate in, but it has little to do with football, little to do with the games he and his teammates will play starting August 30th.
“Are you happy to be here?” his guide asked him when he arrived Tuesday morning.
“It’s very nice,” Prescott told her. “But I’d rather be practicing.”