“He became a national sensation during this junior season,” the emcee proclaimed without hesitation. “May I present, Mississippi State’s newest football legend – Dak Prescott.”
And that was before he was even declared the winner of the award he was there as a finalist for.
While most legends aren’t recognized as such until long after their heroic acts, and often well after death, Dak is one of the rare few living legends, still in the midst of the efforts for which he will long be praised. At least in Mississippi lore he is, where he was just named the winner of the C Spire Conerly Trophy, given annually to the best college player in the state.
He stood in front of the stage with the best players from the state’s best colleges surrounding him, all clapping for him. His picture lit up on the TV screens, while names like Brett Favre, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice hung from the walls around him.
The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is often just one of many halls of fame its inhabitants are members of. The NBA Hall of Fame had a member in attendance, former Bulldog Bailey Howell clapping for current Bulldog Dak Prescott. Winners of World Series’, Super Bowls and basketball championships at every level watched from their displays as another joined their ranks.
As history surrounded the stage, all of the players involved, not just Prescott, knew they had been part of a year which these walls would never forget. Possibly the best six months of football Mississippi has ever seen.
“To receive this award in such a historic season for the state,” Prescott said, “means so much.”
And he’s been the face of it. One of many faces, to be sure, but Dak has been the front man for the Mississippi renaissance.
There were already rumblings about his potential years ago. As an 18-year-old freshman, he was already leading his teammates, lifting weights twice a day so he could make sure all of his teammates worked as hard as he wanted them to. He never cared how old or unimportant he was. He was and is a natural leader.
And that’s what led to his breakout moment, his miraculous comeback, as Dan Mullen called it, when he came off the bench in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Egg Bowl, led the tying drive, then scored the winning touchdown in overtime, the first overtime in the century-old rivalry.
“Dak Prescott just became a legend,” Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said that night to Rick Cleveland, Executive Director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Prescott didn’t stop there, of course. In the year since, he’s led his team to the greatest season in modern football school history. He’s graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine. He’s been featured on every sports website, newspapers across the country, CBS, ESPN, FOX, even the Wall Street Journal. He’s torn the MSU record books asunder, signed more autographs, taken more pictures and kissed more babies than some Presidents. All with a bowl game and a senior season left.
“I hope we get him for another year,” quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson joked as he introduced his star pupil Tuesday night. “But as great of a football player as he is, he’s an even better person. He sets the standard for what you want as a person in your program.”
Such praise could be considered coach speak, but the truth behind those words from Johnson is a large part of what’s made Prescott so popular.
“He’s just so….” Rick Cleveland started to say after the banquet, a man not typically lacking for words.
Polished. Genuine. Humble. Those are the ones that came through that night, anyway. In both his acceptance speech and the interviews with reporters afterward, Prescott deflected credit. He only talked about himself when forced to. He’s excited to win the award, for sure. He’s proud of what he’s accomplished. But every bit of praise, every hint of fame, every accolade that comes his way, makes him think of the people around him.
“I want to thank my coaches,” he said.
“Thank you to Bill Martin, my SID.”
Little more rare.
“A huge thank you to my trainers,” he continued. “They got me through a rough season.”
Teammates, strength coaches, video crews, family members, players from rival schools. All of them received praise for an award Prescott won. For as comfortable as he is in the spotlight, he wants none of the attention.
Prescott once tried to sell a reporter on doing a story, not on him, but on one of the custodians who keeps MSU’s football complex in shape.
“That’s who you need to feature,” he said. “Hardest working man in this place.”
To borrow a cliché, there’s a lot of football left for Prescott, at the college and professional levels. There’s just as much life, too. He could stop now and go down as one of the greatest. He’s already considered as much by many of those in Starkville.
But that’s not Dak.
“He’s done great things,” Johnson said. “He is going to continue to do great things whatever he does in life.”
He’s a legend, with only the first few chapters of the book already written. In the middle of a season, he hasn’t yet had the chance to reflect on what it means, the fact that his name will go down alongside the greats in state which boasts the greatest.
Holding the Conerly Trophy Tuesday night, a little bit of that awareness crept in.
“I haven’t given it much thought,” he said, “but that’s special. That’s something you can’t take away.”