Dak Prescott

Can a Rookie Quarterback Be the Big Man in Dallas?

By Jason King

September 9, 2016

Two days before Dak Prescott’s NFL debut, the quarterback of the world’s richest sports franchise has a problem.

He needs more tickets.

The Dallas Cowboys—who are worth an estimated $4 billion, according to Forbes—only issue their players two complimentary seats to each home game, forcing Prescott’s friends and relatives to get creative before Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants.

Rodney Guin, Prescott’s high school coach from tiny Haughton, Louisiana, says the local newspaper reporter is covering the contest. Maybe he can sneak Guin in with an extra press pass. Childhood friend Jeremy Hicks, a security guard at a Shreveport travel stop, says he might purchase a standing-room-only ticket for $29 and watch Prescott do his thing from the AT&T Stadium concourse.

Then there’s Phillip Glyn Ebarb, the uncle who helped raise Prescott and who remains one of his closest confidants. A part-time swim coach and owner of a T-shirt store in the east Texas town of Orange, Ebarb says he and his wife may need to have “a huge garage sale” to cover the costs of attending Prescott’s games. Halfway-decent seats, he says, can’t be found for less than $350.

“We weren’t prepared for this financially,” Ebarb chuckles. “We spent all of our money on preseason games, because we figured those were the only times Dak would get to play very much.”

He pauses.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Ebarb says. “I knew Dak’s opportunity would come eventually. I just didn’t think it would happen this fast.”

No one did.

AP Photo

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.”


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

Dak Prescott

Getty Images

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.”


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.”

Ebarb laughs.

“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.

AP Photo

For the next two-plus years, Peggy attended nearly every Mississippi State game, home and away. She was in the stands in 2011, even though Dak redshirted and never played. She was there the following season when he saw action as a reserve. Prescott became the Bulldogs’ starter as a sophomore in 2013, and Peggy loved to record the reaction of the crowd on her cellphone when her son’s name was announced with the starting lineup, playing it over and over again throughout the week.

Only now things were different.

Instead of the stands, her brother said, Peggy watched games from the section for people with disabilities while sitting in a wheelchair, an oxygen bag dangling from above.

Diagnosed with colon cancer the previous winter, Peggy had kept the severity of her condition a secret from Dak until about a month before the season. When she finally told him her cancer was terminal, he was crushed. The two made good on a vow to continue their tradition of talking before every game, and Mississippi State got off to a 4-3 start.

But the night before a Nov. 2 road tilt at South Carolina, Ebarb says, there was no call from Peggy. Distracted and concerned, Dak threw three interceptions in a 34-16 loss to the Gamecocks the following afternoon in what is generally considered his worst game as a collegian.

Peggy died the next morning. She was 52.

A few days later, when Ebarb looked at Peggy’s cellphone resting next to her bed, he discovered a text message she’d attempted to send to Dak the night before her death.

“The words were jumbled, so it was impossible to tell what it said,” Ebarb says. “But it was obvious she was thinking about Dak in those final moments. She loved him so much.

“He made her so proud.”

Peggy and Dak Prescott.

Dak Prescott and his mother, Peggy. Photo courtesy of Phillip Ebarb.

✦ ✦ ✦

A few hours before he became a Dallas Cowboy, Dak Prescott caught a six-pound bass and a bucketful of white perch.

Instead of hosting his NFL draft party in a ritzy nightclub or even at home—with TV camera crews in his living room—Prescott invited about 30 friends and family members to the Fin & Feather Resort in east Texas for a weekend of fishing, dominoes and barbecuing on Toledo Bend Reservoir.

The festivities lasted longer than expected.

Prescott—a one-time Heisman candidate—knew he probably wouldn’t be selected in the first round on Thursday’s opening night, but he believed his chances of being picked in the second or third round the following day were strong.

Instead, seven quarterbacks were chosen ahead of him, but his friends say you wouldn’t have known as he sat on a boat clutching a fishing rod that Saturday morning.

“It is what it is,” he told his uncle. “I’m going to be fine.”

A few hours later, while his buddies huddled around a television set for the beginning of the fourth round, Prescott played cards with his aunt, Valrie Gilbeaux, in the back of the room. But when Jones called to inform him he was a Cowboy, Prescott—and pretty much everyone else in the room—burst into tears.

Prescott had grown up as a Dallas fan and still has a picture of himself wearing a Cowboys uniform when he was a toddler. Prescott had met with the team representatives five times leading up to the draft.

Dak Prescott with family and friends watching the 2016 NFL Draft.

Dak Prescott watches the NFL draft with family and friends in April 2016. Photo courtesy of Phillip Ebarb.

“Watching him that day,” Hicks says, “reminded me of watching someone who had just won the lottery. Everything turned out so perfect for him. It was his dream situation. The only thing that made Dak sad was that his mom wasn’t there to see it.”

Later that afternoon, during a private moment with a few of his friends, Prescott made a bold prediction.

“He told us, ‘All 31 teams that passed up on me, they’re going to know who Dak Prescott is,’” Griffin says. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder now. He wants to prove that everyone who doubted him made a mistake.”

Prescott—perhaps sooner than even he expected—will get that chance.

Now 6’2” and 226 pounds, Prescott hopes to generate the same kind of buzz he did at Haughton High School, where coaches still tell stories about the final regular-season game in 2010 against Parkway.

“He told us, ‘All 31 teams that passed up on me, they’re going to know who Dak Prescott is.’”


Both squads were 9-0, and every parking spot within two miles of the stadium was full. Prescott, though, was hobbled with a torn MCL, and Mississippi State fans had spent the week on internet message boards lashing out at Guin for even considering sending their prized recruit onto the field.

“Dak insisted on playing,” Guin says. “Our school had never had a 10-0 season, and he wanted this team to experience that. So he went out there and threw for 400 yards on one leg. That shows you what type of leader he is.

“He risked further injury because he cared more about his teammates than himself.”

Satisfying as the victory may have been, it doesn’t compare to the night Prescott returned to his native Louisiana in 2014 to lead Mississippi State to a 34-29 victory before 102,321 fans at eighth-ranked LSU. Prescott threw two touchdown passes and scored on a 56-yard run in the victory, which was followed by wins against No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Auburn.

With a 6-0 start, the Bulldogs earned their first No. 1 ranking in school history, and Prescott was hailed as the Heisman front-runner. He twice appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Paul Finebaum and crew interviewed him live on the College GameDay set. In 2015 alone, the Campus Book Mart in Starkville grossed over $100,000 by selling more than 2,200 jerseys and T-shirts with Prescott’s No. 15 on the back.

So extreme was the craze over Prescott that he took courses online because he could no longer walk to class without getting mobbed. When he tried to go to lunch at Chick-fil-A in the student union, security guards had to escort him away from crowds that swarmed him in the cafeteria. Hostesses at La Terraza—Prescott’s favorite Starkville Mexican restaurant—were instructed to seat the quarterback in a private room whenever he showed up for dinner. Prescott did most of his grocery shopping at 2 a.m.—and he still caused a scene.

But just as Peggy taught him, Dak always kept a smile on his face and accommodated as many fans as possible.

“He was our Peyton Manning,” said Bill Martin, the football team’s media relations director. “I’ve never witnessed anything like it. When Dak left here, a piece of this town went with him.”

Even in a football-obsessed city such as Dallas, it’s doubtful Prescott will experience the same type of hero worship and cult following he dealt with every day at Mississippi State. The spotlight may eventually be just as bright, but if anything the feedback could be more critical during times of struggle.

AP Photo

One of the most positive signs thus far is that, without ever playing a regular-season game, Prescott has garnered the support of accomplished teammates such as receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

Not just because of his play, but because of his leadership.

“As a veteran,” Witten says, “when a young player comes in here, you want to show him the ropes, but you always want him to earn it. And he’s earned it fairly quickly, not because he’s been thrown into a situation—just because every opportunity, he’s answered it.

“In the huddle he’s good. In meetings he’s good. Obviously his ability to make plays on the field has been really good. I’m proud of him for that, and I think he’ll continue to build on it.”

With one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, veteran pass-catchers such as Bryant, Witten and Terrance Williams, and a deep running back corps led by No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys should be able to take some of the pressure off Prescott, especially early.

“His ability to make plays on the field has been really good. I’m proud of him for that.”


Still, Dallas believes Prescott can make plays, too. Jones scoffed recently when asked if Prescott was on a “short leash.”

“There’s no leash on Dak,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “Heck, he's in. ... There’s no short leash. There’s no long leash. We got us a player we hope can win the ballgame for us.”

Prescott surely appreciates Jones’ confidence, but he knows the most important thing is for him to have confidence in himself. That’s never been an issue for Prescott, who has been asked countless times throughout his career if he’s worried about buckling under pressure if “the moment becomes too big.”

“If you embrace those big moments, and they’re what you’re hoping for, the moments are never too big,” Prescott’s uncle says. “Not if that’s what you want. Not if that’s what you’ve prepared for. Not if that’s the time when you thrive. Dak seeks out those moments.

“Nothing is ever too big.”

✦ ✦ ✦

When he wasn’t on the practice field, Dak Prescott spent most of the weekend before his first NFL start holed up with friends in the man cave of his three-story condo, which is just down the road from Cowboys headquarters.

He and Elliott, a former Ohio State running back, watched college football games along with Hicks and Griffin, who had made the three-hour drive from Shreveport. Prescott cooked wings, sausage and barbecue chicken on his new grill. There were countless games of dominoes and UFC battles on PlayStation 4. Each loss meant 50 pushups.

A final opportunity to kick back and relax with friends before the season was exactly what Prescott needed. Still, football was never far from his mind.

“Every now and then, during a commercial, Jeremy would grab Dak’s iPad and quiz him on the Cowboys playbook,” Griffin says. “He knew every formation, the responsibility of every back, every receiver.

“I’m telling you, he’s locked in. He’s ready.”

Image title

Getty Images

And not just for Sunday’s game, but for all that potentially lies ahead.

“I’ve been through a lot off the field,” Prescott said to reporters earlier this preseason. “I think that kind of translates onto the field. Football serves for a lot of life lessons, and so it allows me to stay humble and continue to work.”

During rare moments of free time during Cowboys training camp, Prescott often tuned in to the television show America’s Got Talent—mainly to keep tabs on one particular contestant: Grace VanderWaal, a 12-year-old ukulele player with a voice beautiful enough to drop audience members’ jaws.

Prescott’s uncle, Ebarb—a country singer who has opened for John Michael Montgomery and Sammy Kershaw, and who has a hit song titled “Hello Twins, Goodbye Boat”—has an eye for talent and is convinced VanderWaal will soon become a national superstar.

Kind of like someone else he knows. 

After VanderWaal’s performance a few weeks ago, Ebarb recorded judge Howie Mandel's comments and texted the video to Prescott.

“My word of advice—and this is really happening, this isn’t a guess—your world is never going to be the same as it was,” Mandel told the girl. “You are in a world that’s going to be different than anything you’ve ever known. In that world, you must remain you. You must never change. ... It’s going to be hard.

“It’s really, really hard. But just you, stay you.”

Ebarb then sent another text.

“The parallels are amazing,” it read. “Love you.”

Prescott responded a few minutes later.

“Thank you for the message above,” he wrote. “Love you, too.”

Jason King is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, King's work has received mention in the popular book series The Best American Sportswriting. In both 2015 and 2016, King was tabbed as one of the top five beat writers in the nation by the APSE. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKingBR

B/R Mag is an experimental, multiplatform digital sports magazine from Bleacher Report. It is a work in progress, and our growing team welcomes your feedback.

Follow the new B/R Mag stream on the Team Stream app and #BRmag on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.