Five years ago, Dak Prescott moseyed onto Mississippi State’s campus as on overlooked, three-star quarterback.
Wednesday night, he’ll end his Bulldogs career as a hero.
No, Prescott isn’t playing for a national championship and he never had the opportunity to even claim a divisional title during his time in Starkville, but everything it takes to construct the 6-foot-2, 230-pound quarterback is the stuff of champions.
The somewhat soft-spoken behemoth with a cannon right arm and presidential smile has dazzled the SEC and the nation for the better part of the last two years. His rugged, bulldozing running style is coupled perfectly with his now NFL-quality passing technique.
The no-name from Haughton, Louisiana, will end his college football career Wednesday flirting with legendary status when the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) face NC State (7-5, 3-5 ACC) in the Belk Bowl.
“He’ll go down as arguably one of the greatest players to ever wear a jersey here,” Mississippi State wide receiver Fred Ross said. “He’s meant a lot to the program.”
That might be an understatement. Since his official coming-out party in Mississippi State’s 44-7 AutoZone Liberty Bowl win over Rice in 2013, Prescott has developed a Tim Tebow-like aura about him. His 361 yards of offense and five total touchdowns propelled the Bulldogs to a monster win rand Rice generated a ton of momentum for what would be a special junior year.
The 2014 season saw Prescott garner Heisman Trophy buzz and shatter 12 school records while leading Mississippi State to a No. 1 ranking and its highest AP poll finish (No. 11) since 1940. Prescott also helped the Bulldogs get to their first Orange Bowl in 73 years. Along the way, he set school records for rushing yards by a quarterback (986), total offense (4,435), total offense per game (341.2), touchdowns responsible for (41), completion percentage (.616), passing yards (3,449), passing yards per game (265.3), 200-yard passing games (12), passing touchdowns (27) and passing efficiency (151.7).
Prescott first put the Bulldogs in the national limelight with his gutty 373 total yards and three touchdowns in a 34-29 win at LSU (Mississippi State's first win at LSU since 1991) that was highlighted by a hellacious, stiff-arm-powered, 56-yard touchdown run.
Two weeks later, Prescott registered 300-plus yards of offense and five touchdowns in a dominant 48-31 win over Texas A&M, giving the Bulldogs back-to-back wins over top-10 teams for the first time ever.
Mississippi State won nine in a row and finished the 2014 season with 10 wins. Fast forward to 2015, and Prescott turned into a surgeon with his arm, throwing for 3,413 yards and 25 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He’s won eight games this season, but this team isn’t in the postseason without him.
No other quarterback on this roster could have become the first SEC player in history to total 550-plus yards of offense and seven touchdowns in a game, like Prescott did in that thrilling 51-50 win over Arkansas. No one would head into Wednesday with the ability to be one of four FBS players ever to throw 60 touchdowns and rush for 40 touchdowns in a career. None could have 110 total touchdowns (fourth in SEC history) or be the fifth player in SEC history with 11,000 total yards.
Prescott’s talent on this team is unmatched.
He has also been a strong off-the-field figure. He does excellent work in the community and is an outstanding student. He’s done things the right way and earned the FBS’ 2015 Senior Class Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in Division I football.
Prescott could be Mississippi State’s greatest player, but he wasn’t perfect. He lost back-to-back Egg Bowls to bitter rival Ole Miss and has lost his last seven games to ranked opponents, including going 0-4 this fall.
However, there’s no discounting how special Prescott has been to this program, which will make saying goodbye so difficult on both ends.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to play with my brothers one more time and play for coach [Dan] Mullen,” Prescott said. “I’m thankful for everything they’ve given me in all my years.
“It’s exciting, but at the same time I won’t get to play with my brothers again.”
Once Prescott trots off the field at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, the next chapter of both his and Mississippi State’s journey will begin. Prescott was such an integral part of Mullen’s recent success, but Mullen must now find his next star.
Whether anyone currently on this roster can garner folk-hero status is unknown, but the Bulldogs aren’t void of bodies behind center. The favorite heading into spring will be freshman Nick Fitzgerald, who enrolled early last spring and threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns this fall, including 141 and two scores with extended play against Troy.
What comes next for Mississippi State is going to feel weird and uncomfortable. Prescott had to leave at some point, but even Ross isn’t sure what to make of the thought of catching passes from someone other than Prescott in 2016.
Ross and his teammates can’t focus on that. They’re just ready to finish Prescott’s tremendous career the right way and add another gold star to his already stellar resume.
“Dak is truly going to be missed,” Ross said. “We want to end his legacy with a win."