STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A smile slowly crept across Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott’s face as he remembered the way his mother would introduce her three sons around town during their childhood in Haughton, Louisiana.
First, she would gush for a minute about her two oldest, Tad and Jace. Then she would turn to Dak.
“And this,” she would say proudly. “Is my Heisman Trophy winner.”
Turns out the late Peggy Prescott might have been onto something.
Dak Prescott is suddenly right in the middle of the Heisman race after a breakout game against Texas A&M last weekend. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more in a 48-31 victory over the No. 6 Aggies, showing the college football world what teams in the Southeastern Conference have seen for quite some time.
After a 5-0 start to the season, No. 3 Mississippi State hosts arguably its biggest game in school history when No. 2 Auburn comes to Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday.
All eyes will be on Dak. He’s ready.
“For other people, things might have changed a little bit,” Prescott said. “But for this team and me personally, nothing’s changed. We’ve just got some momentum going and we’re trying to ride it.”
It’s been a stunning rise for Prescott, who was relatively unknown coming out of Haughton High School in 2010. His recruitment consisted of mostly smaller schools before the Bulldogs offered him a scholarship early in his senior season.
Even Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen acknowledges Prescott’s game was an acquired taste.
The first time he watched Prescott at a summer camp on campus, he saw a guy who had a decent arm and good speed and came up with a four-word scouting report.
“He was just OK,” Mullen said with a grin.
But at a second camp, Mullen said Prescott’s leadership ability became more apparent when he led his team on a few impressive drives against good competition.
Suddenly, Mullen was hooked.
Prescott’s former high school coach Rodney Guin said Mullen had a good eye.
“Mississippi State saw the real him, not just athletically,” Guin said. “They saw every bit of the leadership. Mullen and (offensive line coach John Hevesy) picked up on it when others didn’t. They saw something in him.”
Prescott’s ever-present smile is a constant around the Mississippi State football facilities, but he also has a fierce competitive streak that teammates say is evident in everything from the football field to the weight room to video games. He played through a painful nerve injury during last year’s Egg Bowl, leading the team to an overtime victory over Ole Miss, and even when he’s delivering a harsh message in the huddle teammates know he has their back.
“Dak’s awesome,” Mississippi State offensive lineman Ben Beckwith said. “He’s a great leader. He’s always been like that. What you see on Saturday — that’s him all the time. He leads all the time. He’s a guy you want your son to be like.”
Prescott’s game and attitude have drawn comparisons to a pretty good quarterback Mullen coached in the past — 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow.
Mullen was the offensive coordinator at Florida under coach Urban Meyer from 2005 to 2008, helping the Gators to two national championships. Tebow was a nearly unstoppable force during that time, mixing a charismatic personality with a bruising running style and timely passing.
NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks says the Prescott/Tebow comparison does have some merit — including a cloudy future as far as pro potential.
“(Prescott is) probably more natural with his mechanics and stuff like that, but I don’t think you would say he’s an elite passer by any stretch,” Brooks said. “I think he’s a good player. I think he does a good job in their system. I don’t know if the way he plays is all the way conducive to the way the position is played at the pro level.”
But Prescott’s passing ability has improved quickly just in the past year. His completion percentage is up to 63.9 percent this season after a 58.4 percent mark last year.
He’s thrown for 1,232 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions through five games this fall while also running for 455 yards and six touchdowns.
“I’ve never been the most talented guy out there — I don’t even think I was the best athlete on my high school team,” Prescott said. “So I just tried to work harder than everyone else.”
Prescott didn’t immediately become a star at Mississippi State. He redshirted during the 2011 season and then played sparingly in 2012 in mostly short-yardage situations.
Last season starting quarterback Tyler Russell battled injury problems and Prescott was thrust into a much bigger role. He accounted for 2,769 total yards and 23 touchdowns, almost immediately igniting the Bulldogs’ offense.
But just as Prescott’s career was taking off, he received the toughest news of his life in early November: His mom had died after a yearlong battle with colon cancer. She was 52.
Prescott said she was “everything you would want in a mom.”
“She was strict but loving,” Prescott said. “She didn’t know all that much about football when I was younger, but she learned and then after awhile me and my brothers used to joke and call her John Madden because after the game she’d just break me down.”
Guin said in the emotional hours following Peggy Prescott’s funeral, the two had a short talk.
“I just told him ‘Your mom raised you the way she did for moments like this — to get through stuff like this,'” Guin said. “She raised those boys to be tough. To be strong young men.”
Prescott agreed. He was back on the field a few days later against Texas A&M, accounting for 303 total yards and two touchdowns in a 51-41 loss to the Aggies.
Now he’s led the Bulldogs to eight straight victories dating back to last season and Mississippi State has its highest national ranking in program history. All that success has turned Prescott into arguably the hottest name in all of college football.
Peggy Prescott saw it coming before anyone else.
“My mom would be very proud,” Dak Prescott said. “But she wouldn’t be surprised at all.”
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo and Associated Press writer Kareem Copeland contributed to this story.
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