When Mississippi State starts spring practice later this afternoon it will do so without quarterback Dak Prescott for the first time in five years.
Prescott’s departure leaves possibly the largest vacancy ever left at a position in the history of the program.
Rising sophomore Nick Fitzgerald is the favorite to replace Prescott after serving as his back-up last season. Fitzgerald will have to beat out Elijah Staley, Damian Williams and Nick Tiano to be the Bulldogs’ starting signal caller moving forward.
“Competition breeds the best out of everyone,” Fitzgerald said. “I told Dak I was grateful for everything he’s done but I was kind of ready for him to get on out of here because it’s someone else’s time to try and fill those shoes. There’s no doubt those are huge shoes to fill and whoever wins it is going to have to be the best.”
Although Fitzgerald saw the field for the first time last fall, he is far from a newcomer to Dan Mullen‘s offense. The 6-foot-5, 227-pounder arrived a day after graduating from high school in December 2013 and began practicing with the Bulldogs as they prepared for the Liberty Bowl.
Fitzgerald ended up redshirting in 2014 and was finally able to debut last year. He appeared in eight games completing 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing 23 times for 127 yards and three more scores.
“Getting playing time is always going to improve your confidence,” Fitzgerald said. “Even if it doesn’t, you’ll at least know what it’ll be like in a game and what you’re practicing for. I think being able to have the little bit of success that I did helped a lot.”
Fitzgerald received his most extensive action against Troy. He entered the game on the final drive of the first quarter and played most of the way behind center in a 45-17 victory completing 6 of 7 throws for 141 yards and two touchdowns and adding another score on the ground.
“The Troy game was a little different because I was expecting to maybe go in around halftime,” Fitzgerald said. “Dak woke up that morning and told me he’d been sick so I had to get my mind right to be playing the whole game. I was just able to go out there, make a few plays and I had a lot of help out there. I was able to get into a groove and just played.”
Fitzgerald’s path to success has been an uphill battle. He only started one year at quarterback for Richmond Hill (Ga.) High School, which played a Wing-T option offense, and only attempted 76 passes as a senior.
Fitzgerald credits Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson with helping him develop as a passer after arriving in Starkville.
“Every day they are working on my mechanics and all the little things I can do to improve,” Fitzgerald said. “I feel like I’ve come a very long way since I got here. I was all over the place with my mechanics and they were able to really tighten everything up and make everything look a lot more smooth. I get a comment every rep at practice with how I could’ve done something better. It’s good to basically have two quarterback coaches to give you pointers.”
Due to his limited experience and exposure as a high school quarterback, Fitzgerald only received one other scholarship offer from Middle Tennessee State. Now having a chance to be a three-year starter at MSU has left him thankful for the choice he made.
“I’ve definitely had a good time and enjoy Starkville,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a really big family mentality around here. They’ve brought me in and molded me into what I am today. I couldn’t be more happy.”