A fourth-round pick from Mississippi State, Prescott was the breakout star of the NFL preseason when he completed 78 percent of his passes (39-of-50) for 454 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating was the best of any rookie signal-caller in the league.
"He's better than anybody thought he was," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters Thursday.
Still, the plan all along was for Prescott to spend his first few seasons as an understudy to 13-year veteran Tony Romo, the Pro Bowler with the $108 million contract and the end-zone suite. Everything changed, though, when Romo broke a bone in his back during the opening series of the Cowboys’ third preseason game, against Seattle.
Reports said Romo could miss up to 10 weeks, and the Cowboys named Prescott the starter.
“This is still [Romo’s] team,” Prescott told reporters at the time. “I’m just going to try to do my best to hold the fort down.”
Fans certainly aren’t treating Prescott like a stopgap or a gatekeeper in Dallas, where Dak Mania is taking over the town. Snuffer’s Restaurant & Bar, which had been working on a “Dakburger” since April, is rushing the new item to menu Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys Pro Shop stocked up on Prescott’s No. 4 jersey last week. Back in Haughton, Guin has been fielding calls daily from Cowboys beat reporters desperate for interesting nuggets about the city’s potential new star.
“I’ve been trying to take it easy and lay low,” Guin texted Prescott, “and now you do this to me? Thanks a lot!”
Indeed, being an NFL quarterback is one thing, but starting as a rookie for the most visible franchise in sports—“America’s Team,” the Cowboys are called—elevates the pressure and responsibility to a different level, especially considering Dallas hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since the 1995 season.
“This is still [Romo's] team.”
— DAK PRESCOTT
Prescott, though, hardly seems rattled.
After all, he’s been in this position before.
As a sophomore in both high school and college, Prescott took over for an injured starter, flourished under pressure and never relinquished the role. And while much of his success back then—a 10-0 regular-season record for Haughton; a first-ever No. 1 ranking for Mississippi State—can be attributed to talent, it also occurred because of the intangibles that have long defined Prescott and set him apart, even with the Cowboys.
Barking at an inattentive lineman in the huddle…calling plays for struggling receivers until they make a catch and regain their confidence…encouraging teammates to sign autographs and take pictures to generate fan support. The little things add up.
“He’s the complete package,” Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley says. “He just gets it. He carries himself like a pro—yet he’s never been one.”
That changes Sunday.
When Prescott takes the field against the Giants, he’ll become just the fifth rookie quarterback since 1970 selected after the third round to start an NFL opener, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Heck, even if he just wins half of his starts, Prescott will likely earn the approval of fans of a team that boasts just two playoff victories in the last 19 seasons. That was evident about 30 minutes after the Cowboys’ final preseason game on Sept. 1. Before Ebarb made the half-mile trek to the $40 lot where he parked his truck, he socialized with a few friends at a sports bar near the field entrance at AT&T Stadium.
“You mind if I sit here for a minute?” Ebarb said to a security guard before introducing himself as he plopped into a chair near a roped-off area.
The man laughed upon learning Ebarb was Prescott’s uncle.
“If Dak keeps playing well,” he said, “you’ll be able to sit wherever the hell you want in this stadium.”
✦ ✦ ✦
As Dak Prescott took the final few bites of his quesadillas at La Hacienda Ranch on Sunday afternoon, a middle-aged man approached his table at the Mexican restaurant near the Cowboys practice facility.
“We’re glad to have you in Dallas, and we love what you’re doing,” he told the quarterback. “Keep it up! We’re behind you!”
Childhood friend Jacobi Griffin said the remark meant a lot to Prescott, who is becoming more and more recognizable in his new city.
“He feels like coming to Dallas was his destiny, like he was supposed to be here,” Griffin says. “The people here are embracing him like he’s their kid or their brother or their friend—like he’s their own.”
The adulation is nothing new. At every stop of his career, people have fallen in love with Prescott.
Not just the player—the person.
Prescott and his older brothers, Jace and Tad, were raised by a single mother in a three-bedroom trailer in Haughton, a town of about 3,500 just east of Shreveport. Peggy Prescott worked long hours at a diner/truck stop called Huddle House. Money was scarce. Throughout high school, the Prescott boys never owned a car.
Instead, Peggy influenced their lives in another way: by setting an example.
“[Dak] feels like coming to Dallas was his destiny, like he was supposed to be here.”
— JACOBI GRIFFIN
Despite the cramped living conditions, Peggy’s trailer became a safe haven for children in the neighborhood who were experiencing problems at home. Griffin said he lived at “Miss Peggy’s” for nearly two years. Hicks, one of Dak's childhood friends, had a stint there, too, along with a handful of other kids.
“She never turned her back on anyone,” said Ebarb, Peggy’s brother, “and that’s probably because she knew what it felt like, because so many people turned their backs on her.”
The white daughter of a high school principal, Peggy was shunned when she began dating Nate Prescott, who is black, as a senior in 1979. People made jokes behind her back. Friends became enemies. When Peggy and Nate began having children, a simple trip to the grocery store with her mixed-race babies was sure to evoke whispers and dirty looks.
“That was just something people couldn’t accept in 1979 in the Deep South,” Ebarb said. “All my friends were making jokes and talking bad about my family. I was bitter.”
“But Peggy?” he says. “Peggy didn’t give a s--t. That just let her know who was real and who wasn’t.”
Still, her brother said Peggy used the situation to help mold her sons. She preached kindness and acceptance, and as Dak watched her with customers at the diner or with the troubled kids in the trailer park, he realized his mom derived as much joy from helping others as she did from doing things for herself.
Perhaps that’s why, when Peggy gave him $100 at Christmas when he was 10, Dak used most of the money not for himself, but for a makeup kit and a blow-dryer for his mom, Ebarb said. As a high school senior, Dak heard Peggy express sorrow for a fellow employee at Huddle House who couldn’t afford the one item on her five-year-old daughter’s wish list: a Wii gaming system from Nintendo.
Dak went into his room, boxed up the Wii he’d purchased a few months earlier and handed it to Peggy.
“Give it to the little girl,” he said. “Tell her it’s from Santa Claus.”
By simply being herself, Peggy had shaped Dak into a leader, a guy confident enough to forge his own path rather than follow a crowd.
That was evident when it was time for Dak to pick a college. On the day he was scheduled to sign his national letter of intent with Mississippi State, Peggy presented Dak with scholarship papers from in-state power LSU, Ebarb said. Peggy reminded him that, as a 17-year-old, he’d need her signature, too, to make things official. She told him he had five minutes to convince her not to sign LSU’s national letter of intent.
“I want to go where I’m the difference,” Dak told her. “I want to make something out of nothing. I want to be the reason someone is great.”
That’s all it took.