And now, the end is near.
Dak Prescott’s final song, his encore performance, his last game, ever, in a Mississippi State uniform. December 30th in Charlotte at the Belk Bowl, it’s Dak’s curtain call. He knew it would come eventually, as did anyone keeping track of his career. For better or worse, that’s just how college football works. Coaches may stay the same, though even those often don’t, but players always have the same cycle. They come in as freshmen, anxious to take on the college world. They soon realize they’re not quite ready and careers progress at the same rates of their minds and bodies. Backups become starters, and if they’re good enough, starters become stars.
In the universe of collegiate athletics, Dak has been among the brightest stars of the new age of media and exposure, proudly held up by Mississippi State as their chosen son. He broke records, sure, but what his career has meant goes far beyond the tangible or measurable, though the collections of signed magazine covers in the dens of Bulldogs fans across the state give a good idea of his rank in the hearts of those who call him their own.
At a time when MSU was trying to make a name for itself, trying to pull itself out of the basement of the SEC and back into a spot of national recognition and respect, Dak was the face of the movement, the man putting the world of Mississippi State football on his shoulders while opponents, quite literally, climbed on his back in attempts to bring it all crashing down.
Memories from a collegiate career of friendships and brotherhoods, broken records and bones, football life and real life, are swimming through the head of MSU’s newest legend as he enters his final day.
His journey started almost exactly five years ago when he graduated high school early, enrolling at MSU in January of 2011. When January of 2016 hits, Dak’s time in Maroon and White will be over. The path has been littered with successes and defeats. For every high he’s had, there have been corresponding lows. He’s won more games than he’s lost, and his senior class goes out as the winningest in school history, but the stings of loss are still remembered.
When he lost part of his family, that was the moment he realized he had gained a family, too, in the MSU fans who supported him through good and bad. His teams have been No. 1 in the country and completely unranked, picked to win big games and predicted to finish last in the conference.
Whatever the expectation, whatever the result, he carried himself in a manner befitting the hero MSU never even knew it wanted and turned out to so dearly need.
And now, 60 minutes of gameplay stand between Dak and the end of this chapter of his life. In Starkville at the end of the regular season, he had his moment to say goodbye to MSU fans, to take the field at home one last time. In Charlotte, his thoughts have turned from saying thank you to those who loved him for five years. On the road, away from home, in a game considered important but of no particular long-term consequence, Dak is looking back.
At practice to start the week, he looked around at his teammates and coaches on the field, realizing that it really was about to be over. Throughout his career, there has always been a next game or a next season. This time, this is it.
His emotions are inwardly focused now, the memories of practices, workouts and games, of dinners out, afternoons on the couch and trips around the country flood his mind. If he considered his last home game a tribute to his fans, this final appearance away from home is a tribute to the memories.
“I can’t believe it’s here,” he said to no one in particular after that first practice.
Never a selfish person or player, the most important thing about this game, to Dak, is winning. But after five years of thinking of no one but the team, the coaches, the fans and the program, it’s hard for the outgoing star not to see this game for what it is – his last.
“That’s what it is,” he said. “It’s my last game. I want to go out with a win. Obviously, the last game I played didn’t go how I wanted it to go. I want to make sure I bounce back from adversity, stay focused make sure my team is focused and hopefully go get a win for the last game of my career.”
Win or lose, lots of yards or little, it doesn’t matter, not really. His legacy is already set. Dak Prescott is the greatest player Mississippi State has ever seen. The record books back that fact up, but as any MSU fan will quickly say, his dozens of all-time achievements are just a fraction of the story.
Dak will always be a Bulldog, will always be considered part of the Mississippi State family. His legend will last, but today, his time in the Maroon and White comes to a close.
“All of the sudden,” Dan Mullen said, looking ahead, “he’s not going to be there.”
And now, the end is here.