You gotta believe in Dak Prescott, high school coaches say
On a nondescript street off US-80, next to this small northwest Louisiana town’s post office, is the entrance for “Pine Creek Mobile Home Estates.”
The three-bedroom trailer Dak Prescott grew up in with his mom and two brothers is tucked in a back corner of the complex. Residents know exactly who grew up there, pointing a wandering journalist toward 15 Iberville Circle.
The same trailer the Prescotts called home is still there today. Dak learned to love the game of football in a field behind it, playing with his late mom, Peggy, and two older brothers, Tad (29) and Jace (28).
Their next-door neighbor, Mary Wright, remembers those days well.
“I just remember Dakota out there throwing the football, and Jace was so much bigger and taller than him, but he tried to take him down anyway,” said Wright, chuckling. “I would just think that was hilarious. You’d just have to know the size of him compared to his brothers.
“But Dak was a good kid. He’d always come over and ask, ‘Miss Mary, can I cut your yard? Can I help bring in groceries for you?’ So I miss that.
“But I’m very proud to see where he is now. It’s kind of weird to think that I took that kid to school. I took him trick-or-treating one year and now he’s starting for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Yes, the kid from the humble beginnings who became a college star is now leading America’s Team. It’s easy to see why Prescott developed into the quarterback and person he is by looking back on his roots.
His upbringing helps explain why his high school, college and now professional coaches praise Prescott’s “poise.” It’s part of the reason no stage has been too big for Prescott.
Prescott has always felt comfortable in his own skin and never felt like he didn’t belong.
“No stage has been too big for him, and it’s his upbringing. It’s being multi-racial,” said his brother, Tad, referring to the brothers’ being Caucasian, African-American and Native American. “We see both sides of everything, and we know what there really is to be upset about. Our mom taught us the difference between the need and the want.”
Dak couldn’t agree more, using five words that spoke volumes when he was asked about his upbringing this week at The Star.
“I am who I am,” Dak said, in a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ tone. “I don’t care what anybody says. I am who I am.”
All about relationships
Being a mama’s boy is part of who Dak Prescott is. The strong relationship he shared with his late mother, Peggy, has been well documented, and carries on to this day.
Dak still sends text messages to his mom, who died of colon cancer in 2013 at the age of 52. It’s a way to stay connected to her, and he smiled at the thought of sending her a text on Saturday, the day before his NFL debut.
“That’s the moment I do look back and I kind of say to myself, ‘See where I am in life?’” said Dak, who chose No. 4 because his mom’s birthday is Sept. 4.
“Just all the way back coming from Haughton, La., all the obstacles I’ve had to overcome, and the obstacles she had to overcome to put me in this position and everybody in my family. It’s exciting.”
Peggy Prescott, the daughter of a school principal and teacher, worked multiple jobs to support her three boys as best as she could, and her work ethic rubbed off on Dak. He has the mindset that nobody will be more prepared for opportunity than him. He said at least 90 percent of that had to do with his mom.
Dak also got some of his quiet confidence and swagger from his mom.
Dak’s uncle and Peggy’s brother, Phillip Ebarb, shared enlightening stories on the type of woman she was. Much like Dak, Peggy was comfortable being who she was regardless of what others thought.
“I mean, Peggy was dating a black man in the Deep South in 1979,” Ebarb said with a chuckle. “You can think of how well that was received back then. But I learned at an early age who my real friends were. Looking back, I was blessed to find out about facing that kind of hate, that kind of racism, what real qualities a person has. To me, ignorance is the devil.”
Ebarb went on to share a football story about Peggy.
Nick Saban, the LSU coach at the time, went on a recruiting visit to Haughton High School. There were two pairs of cleats in Haughton coach Rodney Guin’s office, sized 15 and 16.
One pair belonged to the player Saban went to recruit, and the other to a promising freshman lineman (Jace). Saban asked to meet Jace.
That day, though, Jace had stayed home sick. Coach Guin called Peggy and asked her to go home, pick up Jace and meet with coach Saban. After all, having the LSU football coach on campus is a monumental day in Haughton.
“Peggy told coach Guin, ‘He’s home sick. I’m not bringing him. I don’t care if you’ve got Tom Landry there,’” Ebarb said. “So Peggy definitely told you what she thought.”
As outspoken and blunt as Peggy was, instilling good values in her sons ranked as the priority. Guin saw that in all three Prescott boys he coached in high school.
As the star quarterback in his time, Dak became the most popular, but maintained his down-to-earth values.
“He treated everybody the same, from the janitorial staff to the principal,” Guin said. “He treats everyone equal, and I think that’s what people like about him.
“You know, a lot of kids come from tough upbringings. He’s not the only kid we have here who came from that, but they all handle it different. I know his mom always wanted him to have better than what she had, and I think he realized that and worked toward that.”
Dak Prescott has rock star status in two towns – Haughton, La., and Starkville, Miss.
Haughton is a blue-collar town of 3,500, but the town’s high school has 1,200 students as it draws from neighboring towns such as Princeton.
The high school football team, much like in similar-sized towns throughout Texas, is a source of pride for the area. Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Joe Delaney, the 1981 AFC rookie of the year, might be the most notable alum.
But nobody took the program to bigger heights than Dak.
Dak became the quarterback as a sophomore when the starter was injured during a district game, and he never relinquished the job.
Dak had several standout games with the Buccaneers. In the last district game of his junior year, against the school’s rival, Parkway, he led a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown drive with 1 minute, 30 seconds left.
As a senior, the Buccaneers went undefeated in the regular season for the first time in school history. Dak threw for 2,860 yards and 39 touchdowns, and rushed for 951 yards and 17 scores that season.
“We’ve coached other talented kids, but we’ve never coached anybody like Dak Prescott,” said Jason Brotherton, Haughton’s current head coach who was the wide receivers coach when Prescott was there.
“We’ve never had a team believe in one person as much as our team believed in Dak Prescott. You’d get in the huddle and he’d say, ‘We’ve got this.’ If Dak says we’ve got this, we’ve got this.”
More than Prescott’s on-field success, though, his coaches would share stories about Dak as a person.
Brotherton recalled a time when a newspaper reporter went to practice to do a story on Dak, a highly touted recruit at that point, and Dak encouraged the reporter to do a story on the team’s wide receivers instead.
“What kid says that?” Brotherton said, smiling. “But that’s just how he was and the maturity level he had.”
That carried into his college career at Mississippi State. Dak, much like his mom in her day, went against the grain and signed with the Bulldogs instead of in-state power LSU.
Dak wasn’t happy when LSU coach Les Miles had him running tight end routes during a visit, and he never wavered in his commitment to Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.
“Dak wanted to go to a program where he did exactly what he did,” Tad said. “He wanted to build a program and bring it national recognition. He didn’t want to be another player on another big-time team.”
As Tad said, Dak accomplished that goal. Not many people can say they made a program relevant in the SEC like Dak can now with Mississippi State.
Much like in high school and now with the Cowboys, an injury is what opened the door for Dak to start as a sophomore at Mississippi State. And, once he assumed the starting role, he never looked back.
Dak’s biggest moment may have been his junior season when Mississippi State played at LSU. He threw two touchdown passes and scored on a 56-yard run to lead the Bulldogs to a 34-29 victory in 2014.
It’s a moment Dak predicted in high school when he originally committed to Mississippi State. Dak made a “bet” with his childhood friend and high school teammate, Cody Davis, that he would beat LSU in Death Valley.
“I saw him after he beat LSU in Death Valley, and he comes up, gives me a hug and says, ‘Don’t think I forgot about that Cadillac,’” Davis said. “That’s cool that he remembered that. But none of this surprises me. I knew he was going to do great things. The person he is, the work ethic he has, I knew he’d be great.”
Dak finished his college career 23-10 as a starter, and joined former Florida great Tim Tebow as the only SEC players in history to pass for 8,500 yards and rush for 2,000 yards in their careers.
Of course, the ‘Dak-mania’ craze grew with every win in Starkville. This is a guy who led Mississippi State to its first No. 1 ranking, appeared twice on the cover of Sports Illustrated and got into the Heisman discussion.
The hysteria around Dak got to the point where family and friends couldn’t go to a restaurant with him without adoring fans swarming them.
Ebarb has worked in the music industry and been around legends such as James Brown, Merle Haggard and Chubby Checker. None of it compared to Dak’s status in Starkville.
“We went on a fishing trip and stopped at Walmart at 3 a.m. to get our fishing license,” Ebarb said. “3 a.m. ... and the entire staff and everyone in there come over while we’re checking out to get a picture with him. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mississippi State continues to spread the love for Dak, too. The school bought billboards around the DFW area encouraging him good luck on Sunday.
It’s that way in Haughton now, too. Everybody wants a piece of Dak. Haughton High has an enlarged frame showcasing that perfect regular-season in 2010 with Dak, donning No. 6, prominently displayed in the field house.
“It’s a big deal, not that he’s just an NFL player, but the guy is playing quarterback,” said Guin, Dak’s high school coach. “Say what you want, but it is different than being the nose guard. That’s all everyone is talking about around here, and that’s a good thing. It gives the town something to be proud of and he’s something to be proud of.”
Ready for the moment
Dak Prescott is only worried about being ready for what happens on the field this Sunday. He prides himself as a workaholic and wants to make sure he is prepared for the moment, like he’s been his entire life.
That’s why he isn’t worried about trying to milk his new-found stardom for a few extra bucks at this point, even though he’s only on a four-year, $2.4 million contract with less than $400,000 guaranteed as a fourth-round pick.
His No. 1 concern right now is that the Dallas Cowboys win.
Jeff Guerriero, Prescott’s agent
“He’s been offered every type of endorsement – car deals and signing deals and everything -- but this kid says, ‘Let’s wait until I get this over with, OK?’” said his agent, Jeff Guerriero. “He’s not worried about going out and doing all this stuff right now. His No. 1 concern right now is that the Dallas Cowboys win.
“That’s his No. 1 thing, and it’s great for us because we don’t have to worry about him spending time off the field doing this stuff. That’s just the way he is. He’s business. He loves being a Dallas Cowboy. He’s always been a Cowboys fan, and it’s kind of like it’s just meant to be.”
Not to mention that Dak wouldn’t even have enough time to take care of endorsements. He shows up at The Star by 6:30 a.m., is on his iPad studying even during dinner and only takes a couple hours off before calling it a night around 11 p.m. or midnight.
Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan regularly try to stump Dak by throwing different formations and play calls at him, and they rarely succeed.
“He’s got a poise and a composure about him that’s beyond his years,” Garrett said.
Added Linehan: “He’s a great student of the game. He’s a grinder, works hard at it.”
Linehan plans to have the full offense at his disposal with Dak, saying the team believes in him “more than you know.”
Understandably, there will be things tailored toward Dak such as a couple zone-read plays and bootlegs to take advantage of what he did so well in college. For the most part, though, the Cowboys intend to run the offense with Dak much like they did with Tony Romo.
That’s how much Dak has shown in a short period of time as he has exceeded expectations. The coaching staff and his teammates, namely Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, are among those who have gained much respect for what he’s done early on.
When projected backup Kellen Moore went down, Dak had shown enough to make the team comfortable enough with giving him a chance to win the job. And Dak secured the job with impressive performances in the first two preseason games.
Dak went 10-of-12 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the opener at Los Angeles, and followed that up with a more impressive showing against Miami in the second game. He completed 12-of-15 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, and added two more rushing touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating against the Dolphins.
Then, when Romo went down in the third preseason game at Seattle, Dak stepped in and didn’t disappoint once again. So, yes, Dak is better than what the Cowboys thought when they used a fourth-round pick on him. He certainly would’ve justified a higher pick given his body of work early on.
“Unequivocally, he’s better than anybody thought he was,” owner Jerry Jones said.
As far as expectations for Dak, Jones said: “I think and expect us to play winning football with him as quarterback. I think we’ll win football games with him.”
Dak and those close to him expect the Cowboys to win with him as well. Even though outsiders are surprised by Dak’s sudden rise, those close to him expected him to do this.
“It’s very cool; don’t let me sound like it isn’t,” Tad, his brother, said. “At the same time, it’s kind of expected. He works his butt off, and he put himself in position to be the next man up.”
Added Ebarb, his uncle: “This is destiny. He has been prepared for this. It’s crazy how it lined up, but he’s prepared for this moment.”
Dak’s done this sort of thing his entire life. No stage is too big. No moment is too large. He is who he is, and he’ll be ready Sunday.
It’s a moment he’s been waiting for ever since “dreams were possible in your head.”
“From a little kid, the moment I picked up a ball, I’ve been a Cowboys fan and I wanted to play in the NFL,” Dak said. “I’ll be excited and make sure I’m ready for it.”
Giants at Cowboys
3:25 p.m. today, KDFW/4