STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State strength coach Rick Court had a very important message for quarterback Dak Prescott this spring: Durability is more important than ability.
it’s valuable advice for someone who dealt with injury last year, is designed to make plays with both his arm and legs, and is looking to make his game more technically sound,.
“I’m going to keep that in my mind and use that for the rest of my life,” Prescott told ESPN.com in March.
That attitude starts this fall, his first year as the Bulldogs’ unquestioned starter. Prescott said he doesn’t need to “overexert” himself and do “stupid things” on the field that could put him at a higher risk for injury.
The rising junior grew up playing defense, so he craves contact. He loves throwing his body around and delivering bone-rattling blocks when the moment arises. But Prescott’s mindset is now about staying healthy in a year in which expectations are lofty in Starkville and he’s being looked at as more than just an All-SEC player.
For all the good that Prescott did late last season for Mississippi State, he still has a ways to go if he’s going to help the Bulldogs challenge for the SEC Western Division crown in 2014.
“The guys around me -- my teammates -- everybody in this building and this university just make it easy [to improve],” he said. “They make it exciting to get to come up here every day and get better, practice with these guys and get better at what I love to do.”
Prescott’s story is an inspiring one, but his success really was very short term. He passed for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns and led the Bulldogs with 829 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, but his best ball came late in that ugly win over Ole Miss in the regular-season finale and during the Bulldogs’ blowout win over Rice in the bowl game.
He showed his resiliency and character when he came back after the passing of his mother last November, and his bowl performance (361 yards of offense and five touchdowns) was impressive, but Prescott must build on his late-season heroics. He can’t afford to be a flash-in-the-pan player.
Prescott is looking to rebuild his on-field image. He wants his feet to be faster, his decision-making quicker, and he wants to process more than just one play before, during and after the ball is snapped.
If Prescott is going to be a more complete player, he has to learn how to adjust when plays break down. He needs to recognize defenses, especially when they show exotic looks. He wants to manage things when they go outside of the norm, and he wants to keep his feet steady after the first, second and third progressions.
Prescott is almost starting over, but he showed tremendous progress with his evolution this spring.
“The great thing about him is that he’s a hard worker. He wants to be good at that stuff, and that’s where you see the improvement come,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “Despite the fact that he thinks, ‘I’m the starting quarterback now,’ he’s going to be one of the hardest workers every day out there on the field.”
And that’s exactly what Prescott needs to do. He’s going to hear his name mentioned more in the coming months so he has to focus on the field.
Prescott said he’s never received this sort of attention, but it hasn’t gotten to him. This spring, Prescott kept his head in his playbook and quietly went about his business, throwing for 131 yards and registering two total touchdowns in Mississippi State’s spring game. There were flashes of maturity that Prescott hopes to take into the fall to combat any sort of hype.
“We’re a team and no one person on this team is going to be better or bigger than the team,” Prescott said. “That doesn’t mean much, but it feels good, I guess you’d say.”
His teammates have no problem following him. After watching Prescott share time with Tyler Russell and freshman Damian Williams, players realized that Prescott never took time off from working as a starter. He was always up, always positive, and always motivating guys, even when he wasn’t on the field or practicing.
“He’s the top dog of the team, and not just because he’s the quarterback,” center Dillon Day said. “In our offseason workouts, the way he works, the way he attacks [working out], the way he tries to motivate other people to get on his level because he’s way up here and he’s trying to bring everybody right up with him.”
Last season, we saw signs of greatness, if only for a small amount of time. Now, with his top five receiving targets back and more knowledge filling his brain, Prescott said he has only scratched the surface.
So what's next?
“I don’t know how to answer that, but there’s a lot more to come, I’d say,” Prescott said.