By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State liked its quarterback situation heading into last season.
The Bulldogs returned fifth-year senior Tyler Russell as the starter and had a talented backup in Dak Prescott. The plan was to alternate both signal callers throughout games.
However, that idea had to be scrapped when the duo missed eight games due to injuries last fall with Russell sidelined for six games and Prescott missing two. The injuries also forced Damian Williams into action as a true freshman.
The positive repercussion from an injury plagued 2013 was that Prescott received seven starts and has now emerged as one of the Southeastern Conference’s budding stars. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior is a Preseason All-SEC selection and considered by some to be a dark horse Heisman candidate.
“It’s been cool I guess, and in a way it’s been surprising,” Prescott said. “I don’t feel like I’ve played near my best ball here yet. It’s good though that people are noticing what I can do and have high expectations for me. That just raises my personal expectations for myself.”
Prescott went 4-3 as a starter leading MSU in both rushing and passing. He completed 58.4-percent of his throws for 1,940 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions while rushing 134 times for 829 yards and 13 more scores.
The Haughton, La., native hopes to take the offense to new heights even after a record-setting 2013 season.
“I think we’ll be an explosive offense,” Prescott said. “We’ve got guys all around me and it starts with getting them the ball to open up my game.”
Williams returns to backup Prescott behind center. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder from New Orleans had a memorable ending to last fall by running for the game-winning 25-yard touchdown in overtime at Arkansas and also starting the Egg Bowl.
“He’s a lot more comfortable and confident in what we’re doing as an offense,” said quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. “You can see he’s had some experience and is gaining some of those leadership qualities. He’s done a good job and you can tell he’s becoming a more mature player.”
The Bulldogs signed a pair of quarterbacks in the 2014 class in Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley.
Fitzgerald was an early high school graduate and was able to get a head start participating in both bowl and spring practices. Staley is a 6-foot-6 southpaw who also intends to play basketball for State.
“Both of those young guys have a ton of talent,” Johnson said. “They still have a ton of progress to make but they’ve done a nice job so far.”
The quartet of quarterbacks have built a strong relationship with Johnson, who is in his first season in Starkville replacing Les Koenning. The 27-year old former Utah quarterback and offensive coordinator was also recruited and coached by Dan Mullen.
“He’s like a dad, brother and a friend,” Prescott said. “It’s good to have him coaching me.”