In December of 2010, Dak Prescott finished high school for good, walked out the doors of Haughton High School for the last time and started college at Mississippi State a couple weeks later.
“Five years ago I was just starting off,” Prescott said after practice over the weekend. “Coach [Dan] Mullen made a comparison the other day that the true freshmen who just came in were in seventh grade when I came in. To think I’m that old is a little surreal, but I’m enjoying every moment of it.”
Over those five years, Prescott has gone from a wide-eyed and unknown freshman to the face of one of the SEC’s rising programs, an adjustment he’s had to learn to handle on the fly. For the all-conference quarterback, the football-centered fame has given him a platform to impact those around him positively. But as he learned over spring break, it’s also made some aspects of life more difficult, particularly his ability to do anything in public without his presence being noticed.
“It’s life,” he said. “There are perks to it and then obviously there’s a negative side to it, but it’s just being the best person I can and live the life that is handed to me and make the most out of it.”
Now, finally, Prescott feels the worst part of the offseason is behind him and his escape – football – is back.
“I feel peaceful whenever I have football, no matter what adversity I’m going through,” he said. “To come back out here and get the ball in the air with my brothers, it feels great.”
From here, the questions are a bit different than what they’ve been before. How does Prescott follow up to the breakout 2014 campaign MSU had? After so many years already at MSU, what can he do to get better? Will he be able to keep opponents from figuring him out?
Coaches often say the biggest jump for a player is between their freshman and sophomore years. If that’s the biggest, then Mullen thinks the gap between junior and senior seasons may be a close second, at least for Prescott.
As the head coach told reporters Saturday, Prescott should know the offense as well as anyone now. Heck, he’s been in the offense longer than his quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.
“To me, he should be able to teach our offense to anybody at this point,” Mullen said. “He should be able to teach the offense just like the coaches can teach it because he’s been around it for so long now.”
When Mullen talked about redshirt freshmen quarterbacks in spring practice, he talked about guys just trying to figure out where they’re supposed to be, what they’re supposed to do and how to catch up with the speed of the game.
Prescott, however, knows every play. He knows every route, every protection, every audible and every look the defense is going to give him. He’s gone from an inexperienced change-of-pace quarterback relying on athleticism early in his career to a strong, confident and knowledgeable signal caller for whom the game has slowed down considerably.
“There’s just a lot of comfort for him out there,” Mullen said of Prescott. “The things he’s working on are different than what a lot of other guys are working on. You’re trying to get to graduate level things of how fast he can make decisions. How much he can anticipate throws, put things into tighter windows, because that’s going to make him an even better player next year.”
In particular, Mullen said Prescott’s awareness and pocket presence are accelerating at a high level. During full-team passing drills Saturday, Mullen said, his veteran status showed clearly.
“With blitz pick-up, he did a great job sliding, moving in the pocket and buying time for himself and trying to anticipate to get the ball out fast and into windows,” Mullen said.
The experience and comfort, paired with Prescott’s personality, have made him the unquestioned leader on the practice (and game) field for the Bulldogs. Just as much as he may be a team captain, he may be the team professor, too. Prescott works with the younger quarterbacks constantly, as one would expect, always pulling them to the side between plays or after practice to discuss the good and bad of what happened.
When working with the full team, however, it’s more than just the passers. Prescott immediately finds his offensive line after plays during scrimmage situations, just “to make sure we all saw the same thing out there and we are all on the same page on protections.”
He talks with running backs, puts in extra time with receivers; he even came in during breaks from football between December and March to work with new center Jamaal Clayborn who moved over from guard to replace the graduated starter Dillon Day.
Prescott himself has improved, it seems, but he’s not content to be the only one getting better. It’s not difficult to see him ending up as a coach when his playing days are over. He loves to teach.
“It only makes me better and makes me sharp on my knowledge of the game,” Prescott said. “I just try to make sure I know every aspect and be able to teach it to all the other guys like it’s nothing.”