Why Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott is SEC's secret weapon
Mississippi State's quarterback tradition is non-existent, but Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott aims to change that with an SEC West run.
Mississippi State has had as many drafted NFL quarterbacks as Johnny Manziel has NFL starts in the modern era (since 1977).
Yep, not even a seventh-round pick has commanded the huddle in Starkville, making the Bulldogs one of three power-conference schools with such a distinction. No 3,000-yard passers, either.
So excuse us as we're about to heap an insufferable amount of hype on Dak Prescott, place 18 exclamation points behind his name and deem him something predictable like 'The SEC's Secret Weapon.'
Mississippi State needs this. You'll understand.
There's not greatness in his numbers. Prescott has seven starts, a modest 58.4 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns and seven picks. His 829 rushing yards for 13 touchdowns last season are solid, not life-changing.
There's the threat of greatness, though. Prescott is the best all-around quarterback Dan Mullen's had at the position since, well, that Florida guy. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Prescott has 6.5 percent body fat and squats 450 pounds.
His real name is Rayne Dakota. His throwing shoulder has a tattoo of feathers, smoke, wind and two turtles -- all the more reasons to pump the hype machine full of cowbells.
Actually, this is not empty hype.
"He makes them a legitimate contender in the SEC West," said former Browns GM and Senior Bowl president Phil Savage, who scouted Prescott and other quarterbacks at the Manning Passing Academy last month. "Big arm, sturdy lower body, accuracy downfield might be questioned."
Hold on a minute. Contention? That suggests the Bulldogs might squeeze nine wins or more out of this season. Just getting to four straight bowl games under Dan Mullen had never been done there. And isn't there an SEC bylaw that states Mississippi State and Ole Miss can't be good at the same time?
"We want to win the SEC championship and win the national championship," Prescott said.
Well, Dak, if the breakthrough is going to happen, it's going to be now. Mullen said his squad returns 25 players that have starter's experience. Twenty-five!
That number equals mediocrity if Prescott plays poorly.
"He will be the key to them either getting over the hump or not!" an SEC West head coach said.
Good thing Prescott plans to catch a few dreams. No, really -- says 'Dreamcatcher' on his shoulder. That's not a slogan, but a nod to the Choctaw Apache Tribe of Ebarb (La.), for which his grandfather, Glyndell, was heavily involved. That explains the feathers-and-smoke-and-wind-and-two-turtles tattoo.
He's never visited his grandfather's tribe but still feels connected to it. If Prescott has his way, this season will reflect that.
"Just to stay true to who I am -- the struggle," Prescott said. "I've struggled throughout my life. Single mom raising three boys. (Losing mom) was the biggest adversity throughout my life. But I knew not to stop doing what I love."
Prescott suffered through the well-publicized passing of his mother, Peggy, to cancer late last year. The loss of mom coupled with a wildly painful nerve injury to his non-throwing shoulder made Prescott's triumphant Egg Bowl return that much sweeter, orchestrating a late-fourth-quarter drive that will live in Bulldogs folklore.
Since then, he's immersed himself in team leadership. Sure, he spent the offseason trying to improve his throwing balance, making sure "my feet are in sync with my arm."
Mullen is more impressed with Prescott's I-got-this-coach mentality to pretty much everything. The rare quarterbacks organize players-only workout and the coach feels at ease about it, Mullen said. No no-shows. Prescott makes sure of it.
"Ability to win," said Mullen about what stands out most with Prescott. "The it factor type of deal. He has it. Brings up the level of play with everybody around him. He's going to make something happen, whether in run game or his arm with the passing game or improvising and extending plays."
Prescott is about seven pounds lighter than Tim Tebow, Mullen's ace quarterback while the Florida Gators OC, but the Bulldogs can use Prescott's strength in a similar power-running style. Mullen doesn't show Prescott old clips of Tebow because he wants his quarterbacks to create their own identity.
Toughness is already part of that. Doctors told Prescott a week before the Egg Bowl there was no chance he'd play. A week later, as the backup, he completed 11 of 20 passes for 115 yards with a three-yard, game-sealing touchdown run on a gutsy 4th-and-1 call by Mullen. He was cleared before kickoff and hadn't thrown a ball in weeks.
For Mississippi State to make an SEC West play, though, Prescott must deliver from the pocket when necessary.
"I believe in myself as a quarterback who can run," Prescott said. "If the coverage shows or the receivers fall and I have to make something happen with my feet. But I know what I need to do throwing the ball first."
Prescott has created some grassroots Heisman hype, and it's a tad too early for that. Too many great quarterbacks ahead of him. Get into late October with big numbers and a win over LSU or Auburn and then let's talk.
As Mullen says, throw too many picks and hype fizzles in a hurry.
That reminds Mullen of something more comforting about his quarterback.
"He wants more than hype," Mullen said. "He wants results."
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