As Dak Prescott turns 30, Cowboys QB finds 'urgency' in everything

Stephen A.: Dak's lack of playoff success only amplifies the pressure (2:06)

Stephen A. Smith lays out why Dak Prescott's lack of playoff success means more pressure on him than Mike McCarthy. (2:06)

OXNARD, Calif. -- Dak Prescott turned 23 during his first training camp with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. He was getting two snaps in team drills, splitting work with fellow backup QB Jameill Showers, and just trying to find his way.

In a matter of weeks, that would all change after injuries to backup Kellen Moore and then-starter Tony Romo, pushing Prescott to the QB1 role he has had ever since.

On Saturday, Prescott turns 30. He is the clear leader of the Cowboys, the last player remaining from the 2016 draft class with the departures of Ezekiel Elliott and Anthony Brown, and singularly focused on finding his way to the stage at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas after Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11, 2024, holding the Lombardi Trophy.

"It just speaks of urgency. Yeah, I'm blessed to play this game, blessed to be in this organization," Prescott said. "But as you see, it's a business. It's not forever for everybody and I know what I want to do. I know what I want to accomplish and I know what this team wants. And it's about that now."

Troy Aikman was 29 when he won his last of three Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1990s. Roger Staubach was 29 when he won his first Super Bowl in 1971 and 36 when he appeared in his last in 1978, but he was 27 when he entered the NFL after his Navy commitment.

Fairly or not, every Cowboys quarterback is compared to those two Hall of Famers.

"Dak has never cowered to the expectations of winning the Super Bowl," Aikman said. "He's taken that head-on. He's the only one I've heard since I've played that is really been that adamant about that being the standard for a Cowboys quarterback."

To do what he has not done, Prescott has poured himself into his work physically, mentally and emotionally.

"Time is flying and for Dak to be 30 years old, you pinch yourself that he's growing and I think the great news is, what I love about Dak, is he continues to have just an insatiable appetite to want to get better and be great," executive vice president Stephen Jones said, adding, "He's just driven to win a championship and I'm betting on it. I just think he's special and we’re lucky to have him."

In each of the past three years, he has suffered injuries that have cost him 17 games. A dislocated and fractured right ankle in 2020. A right calf strain in 2021. A broken right thumb in 2022. He's gotten leaner and worked to become more flexible. His personal trainer is with him at The Star in the offseason and regular season, as well as in Oxnard, California.

"I'm three years off of a nasty injury and I’ve got to be more dialed into my prehab and rehab so the calf doesn't come up or this doesn't come up or so that doesn't come up," Prescott said. "So in a sense, I feel like I've been doing more than just a routine. Some of that is part of the workout, but I've got to do that at this point."

Said receiver CeeDee Lamb, "He's a heavy sweater, bro. It's insane. It's like he jumps in and out of the pool [in] pre-practice."

Prescott's age has become something of a joke to his teammates. Two weeks ago on a trip he organized for skill players at Lake Oconee in Georgia, a presenter asked who the oldest player in the room was. Prescott was writing down notes and did not look up.

"Heard a couple of coughs and then heard my name and looked up and everybody was giving me crap for being the old guy," Prescott said.

Lamb is 24. One day recently, he was talking about there is no way a defensive player that was 30 could guard him, drawing a slight rebuke from Prescott.

"Easy," he told him. "I'm going to be 30 soon."

"He's old," Lamb smiled. "He don't like old but it’s that big 3-0 in this league is different. Obviously, you got guys like [New York Jets quarterback] Aaron Rodgers, who's a great, and you got [former quarterback] Tom Brady who played until he was 45. Plenty of guys don't do that, but I see Dak doing that.'

Each summer, Prescott takes his skill players on a trip before training camp designed to be about football but more camaraderie. This year, 17 players were on hand. Prescott paid for everything except the airfare. Two Navy SEALs spoke to the group about the importance of trust.

"It was kind of our brother's keeper motto, right?" Prescott said. "Your success is my success and it's equal all the way across."

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, acquired in a trade from the Houston Texans, is in his 11th season and turns 30 in September. He has played with former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Brady.

"I'll never get into comparing but one thing I say about Dak is just the way he's able to lead," Cooks said. "I talked to some of the guys about that the other day. Leading, you just can't fake it. And the way that he leads is so authentic. You'll follow that man anywhere. So that alone right there is the No. 1 key in my opinion you got to have from a quarterback. He has that and more."

Prescott is the youngest in his family, but he said he has always felt older. Maybe that came from hanging around his brothers, Tad and Jace. Maybe that's the role he has been in since high school as the starting quarterback.

As the years have gone by, he has challenged himself to stay connected to younger teammates through music or fashion or other sports. First-round pick Mazi Smith was 15 when Prescott was a rookie with the Cowboys.

"This game is beautiful," Prescott said. "Every time you get out there and in between the lines, it doesn't matter how old you are. You play this game as a kid."

But there is scar tissue beyond his surgically repaired ankle and thumb. He has not advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs in four chances, starting with his rookie year after posting an NFC-best 13-3 record. In each of the past two years, his miscues have led to losses to the San Francisco 49ers.

He has learned that winning is hard.

"Being a fan of the NFL and being a fan of the most elite level of football, understanding that yeah, hell yeah, it'd be hard -- but the way my rookie year went, it kind of messed my head up and I didn’t think it’d be this hard in the six years following," Prescott said. "But I don't want it if it's easy. I've never gotten anything easy in my life. I don't ask for anything and I'm damn sure not going to ask now."