When Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen took the podium in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium, minutes after his team had butchered N.C. State in a wet, convincing 51-28 Belk Bowl win, his face was the picture of bliss. Mullen had just guided his team to its second-straight nine-win season — a first in Mississippi State history — while picking up his fourth bowl win.
But minutes later, Mullen was asked about the player who captained that team — the same player who took home the MVP honors Wednesday night — and his expression changed. For a moment, the sixth-year head coach fought back tears. Then he admitted his oratory skills were lacking. There was no way to put in words what Prescott has meant to Mississippi State, or to him. But still, he would try.
“I’ve coached a lot of great football players and he’s easily one of the best,” Mullen said. “He’s a special talent.”
When Prescott took the podium himself, it was clear that admiration was mutual. The winner of the Senior CLASS award for the most outstanding Division I senior football player was repeatedly asked about himself — what he was going to do now, how he thought he played, what he thought he meant to Mississippi State — but he didn’t truly open up until he was asked about Mullen.
“I can remember the conversation where my mom actually allowed me to sign to Mississippi State,” Prescott said. “At the time I was 17, she was going to have to sign. LSU was all in her ear, recruiting her more than they were recruiting me. And I remember one night staying up to 2 o’clock and just telling her I didn’t want to go jump on a team that was used to winning. I wanted to go to a team who had a coach who was changing things, changing expectations. And I saw that in coach Mullen. I was so thankful for him to give me the opportunity to come play here and develop me as a player.”
This season, there has hardly been any doubt about how much Prescott means to Starkville, or how much Starkville means to him. A month ago, the senior was set for his final chance to play in front of a hometown crowd. He took his final Dawg Walk that afternoon, then took the field against in-state rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, looking for revenge after losing to the Rebels last year. Instead, Prescott and the Bulldogs slipped early and often, digging a 21-0 first-quarter hole, then falling to the Rebels 38-27.
The loss itself devastated Prescott, but the fact that his final game in Davis Wade Stadium culminated in sending his rivals home with the Golden Egg and his fans home with a bad taste in their mouths hurt even more.
Wednesday, Prescott had a second chance at a send-off. Wednesday, he played for Mississippi State one last time, wore the maroon and white one last time, heard his play calls drowned out by the sound of clanging cowbells one last time. And what a time it was. The quarterback went 25-for-42, collecting 380 yards and four touchdowns while running for 47 yards. Fittingly — and deservedly — he was honored as the Belk Bowl MVP in Mississippi State’s 51-28 throttling of N.C. State.
And fittingly, when it was all over, Prescott did his best to shy away from the spotlight, to deflect praise and laud the people he thinks the most deserving — the fans.
“Thank you for everything,” he said. “Five years: A lot of ups, a lot of downs, a lot of adversity. Thank you for always having my back.”