HAUGHTON, La. — Dak Prescott is running on fumes. If he doesn’t get some sugar, immediately, he might not make it.
He asks one of his two big brothers, Tad, for help. He’s in desperate need of candy, preferably Skittles. A short time later, a ProCamps staffer shows up with a single-serving package of Welch’s fruit snacks.
Over the course of the late morning and early afternoon, Prescott will devour not only a few bags of Welch’s fruit snacks but Sour Patch Kids and Starburst, too. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound quarterback has quite the sweet tooth and is genuinely excited every time he gets to dig his hands into some fresh junk.
One camper in particular seems surprised that he shares a vice with such a larger-than-life figure in these parts.
“Dak, you like candy?” the youngster asks, somewhat incredulously.
“You don’t?” Prescott responds, with just the right amount of pure joy.
This is the second of three camps for Prescott this week. The first one was Tuesday in Starkville, where he starred for Mississippi State, and then the third is Saturday and Sunday in Dallas, where he stars for the Cowboys.
But this one is at Haughton High School, his alma mater. When you visit the Wikipedia page for Haughton, a very small town of 3,300 or so in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish, Prescott is the primary entry in the “notable people” section ahead of two other former football players, Myron Baker and the late Joe Delaney.
This is where Prescott’s legend was initially forged. Before he took the Bulldogs to No. 1. Before he took America’s Team to the No. 1 seed.
The MSU camp was a smashing success, with 1,400 or so kids — open to boys and girls from first to eighth grade — in attendance. The upcoming camp at Lake Dallas High School in the suburb of Corinth is similarly sold out.
After flying to Starkville and spending two days there, Prescott and his entourage took a bus 300-plus miles to Haughton and arrived just before the start of Thursday’s camp. He won’t even have a full day here, as he needs to get back on the bus and head another 200-plus miles to Dallas in the late afternoon. It’s reminiscent of an up-and-coming band on a regional tour.
Prescott’s rookie year ended Jan. 15 in a postseason defeat to the Green Bay Packers. It’s now June. He’s yet to take a vacation.
The camps are just the latest of his responsibilities as one of the NFL’s bright young passers. Photo shoots. Autographs signings. Sponsorship obligations with adidas, Pepsi and even a private jet fleet called Nicholas Air, among others.
Somehow, perhaps aided by the periodic rush of sugar, Prescott manages to hide the fact that his new-found national fame is sucking the life out of him. He greets former teachers with a hug. He cheers on campers with a high five. He thanks volunteer coaches with a handshake. But what he really needs is a break from it all.
Fortunately, he’s off to Los Angeles soon. His agent, Jeff Guerriero of ProSource Sports in nearby Monroe, has a house there. Prescott’s also in the market for one.
* * *
Last season, Prescott was named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. Only eight QBs have won dating to 1967.
The previous six — Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III — were all first-round picks. Prescott was a relatively unheralded fourth-round choice two Aprils ago.
Those players went to teams that badly needed a franchise signal caller, so they were handed the keys to the offense quickly upon being drafted. That certainly wasn’t the initial plan for Prescott, who was supposed to be nothing more than a backup for Pro Bowler Tony Romo and a project to be developed for down the road.
Then Romo hurt his back in the preseason. What appeared to be a minor injury turned out to be much more severe.
With Romo in street clothes, Prescott put together an 11-game winning streak from Weeks 2-13 that saw him throw 19 touchdown passes against only 2 interceptions. Meanwhile, overall No. 1 selection Jared Goff was affixed to the bench with the Los Angeles Rams.
It was one of the more unlikely success stories in the history of the league for a first-year field general. Sure, he was aided by a beastly tailback in Ezekiel Elliott, an explosive receiver in Dez Bryant, a savvy tight end in Jason Witten and a road-grading offensive line, but don’t underestimate Prescott’s contribution to the equation.
Romo, who had previously said he’d like to play into his 40s, abruptly retired at 37 and is now in the broadcast booth for CBS.
In November, Romo gave a heartfelt press conference rarely seen from an athlete — particularly a football player. Despite being back to full health, he officially stepped aside for Prescott. Not just for the present, but for the future.
More often than not, football players hold on to their jobs like grim death. There are only so many roster spots. There are only so many starting positions. Organizations can cut them at a moment’s notice since contracts aren’t guaranteed, which is why they routinely hide concussions and flat-out lie to doctors.
Had he been replaced by a struggling Goff, not a thriving Prescott, then Romo might have never filed his papers.
The gesture said a lot about Romo, but it also said a lot about Prescott. Romo, who threw 83 more TDs and 24 fewer INTs than Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, wasn’t going to hand the reins to just anyone.
However, Romo saw a worthy heir in Prescott. Not only for the way he ran the offense, but for the way he carried himself. Romo remembered being treated with nothing but class by Drew Bledsoe, whom he replaced in 2006. Bledsoe started 70 consecutive games in Dallas before giving way to Romo. He never played again.
“He’s earned the right to be our quarterback,” Romo said of Prescott in a stunning display of humility.
“He’s been a great leader,” Prescott said of Romo following the presser, “a great model for me to just look up to and watch every day.”
Prescott’s task is to win a Super Bowl. That’s the one box Romo never checked for the championship-or-bust Cowboys.
* * *
Prescott is hosting this camp, but he’s not exactly running it. This is what ProCamps does every day for approximately 100 clients.
In addition to Prescott, ProCamps does the grunt work for the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Larry Fitzgerald and Rob Gronkowski. NBA? Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. MLB? Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Anthony Rizzo.
It’s not necessarily a cookie-cutter approach, though. Each athlete can customize the event to some degree. The aforementioned Roethlisberger, for example, eliminates one of the more popular aspects of most camps — the “Smoke House” — in order to make sure that each and every kid in attendance gets a chance to catch a pass from him.
But Prescott is geeked up for the Smoke House. It’s essentially a camp-wide contest to see who can run the fastest 40-yard dash.
The irony isn’t lost on me. Prescott has admitted that he was never much of a camp guy growing up. He was more about intangibles than measurables and ran the 40 in a rather pedestrian 4.79 seconds at the Scouting Combine.
“That’s why I admire speed,” he says, “because I don’t have it.”
More than 700 campers make up 72 individual teams, and each stages a 40. The fastest is pulled aside to advance, as four winners are eventually crowned based on age group. As Prescott holds a stopwatch, his inner circle is one step short of gambling — I got headband! … I got mohawk! — on who will win each heat.
Prior to the Smoke House, the teams were spread across three fields at the high school for games of two-hand touch.
Prescott jogs from one game to the next, stepping in to QB each team for a few snaps. He cheers after every catch. He groans after every drop. He seems to be genuinely trying to score and avoid picks.
“Somebody come back,” he says in the middle of a play, most of the kids going deep and shouting his name. “I need a checkdown.”
Everyone gets a high five before he jogs away. Eventually, I focus on the campers right after they have their two seconds of personal attention. For most of them, it takes a moment to realize what’s just happened. Some of the biggest smiles occur after Prescott has already turned his back and left.
Landon Grigsby, a 7-year-old from Bossier City, was one of the lucky ones to reel in a pass from the local hero.
“It was kind of hard,” he says, “so I didn’t know if I was going to be able to catch it or not.”
Later, campers go through drills applicable to many of the individual positions. There are quarterback stations, of course, but this isn’t the Manning Passing Academy. It’s more about the absolute basics.
As Prescott bounces around from station to station, he gives a high five and a “good job” when he sees a rep he likes. When a kid doesn’t set his feet right or holds the ball too loosely, he offers words of encouragement and a quick tip. He’s not just talking smack with his boys from afar. He’s involved and engaged.
Every T-shirt is emblazoned with a 6. That was Prescott’s jersey number when he played at Haughton. It’s yet another personal touch.
* * *
Be careful what you wish for, they say. You just might get it. Once fame has a hold of you, its grasp can be suffocating.
Not only does Prescott play the most glamorous position in sports, but he does it for one of the most glamorous franchises in sports. Like the New York Yankees and Manchester United, the Cowboys are worldwide.
When you combine the campers with staff, parents, media and locals on hand for the occasion, there are more than a thousand people here for Prescott’s homecoming. That’s about a third of Haughton’s population. All they want is one photo, one autograph, one handshake, one smile — but it adds up fast.
The demands placed on him throughout this tour are crushing. He’s constantly in motion like a shark. A very tired shark.
Toward the end of the camp, Prescott is whisked over to a Q&A with reporters. It’s a standard affair — What’s it like to see this kind of turnout? … Could you have ever imagined this as a kid? — that results in few memorable quotes.
He’s distracted, though. While he makes sure to answer each and every question, as many of the faces are familiar from his high school days, his eyes keep wandering over to a member of the ProCamps team who coordinated the scrum. Prescott says just enough to satisfy everyone before the staffer shuts it down.
The last thing he wants is more cameras in his personal space, but this is one of the assignments on a seemingly endless list.
“Do you remember your last game on this field?” one writer asks, clearly in rhetorical fashion.
“Yeah, you made me do an interview after we lost,” Prescott says, to the delight of the dispersing mob.
If he had his way, he’d spend as much time as possible with his niece, Kennedy. She’s Tad’s daughter — Prescott is yet to have any children of his own — and has completely stolen his heart. The two of them are thick as thieves.
To Kennedy, he’s still just Uncle Dak. That being said, his constantly deepening pockets can come in very handy. Like when she really wanted a French bulldog, but the one she found on Craigslist cost $1,800. It turns out the puppy was being sold to help pay for a cancer survivor’s medication. Prescott paid double the asking price.
They enjoy Mexican food. They enjoy “being funny and crazy” together. She named the dog French Fry, because of course she did.
“I’m proud of what he’s done,” Kennedy says, “but not just because of what he’s done in the NFL. To me, he’s my uncle.”
But Prescott is so much more than a football player now. He’s a carefully crafted image who helps sell shoes, soft drinks and, yes, fractional jet ownership. One of Nicholas Air’s other spokespeople is Nicole Kidman, by the way.
So far, Prescott seems to have learned from the few minor mistakes on his résumé. There was the scuffle outside of a club in Panama City on spring break (he was reported to be the victim, not the assailant). There was the DUI he was charged with in Starkville a year later (breathalyzer tests proved to be inconclusive).
Prescott is the All-American QB playing for America’s Team. While the lifestyle only gets richer, the burden only gets heavier.
* * *
Apropos of a football camp hosted by a quarterback, an audible needs to be called due to Tropical Storm Cindy.
The weather unexpectedly cooperated for most of the morning, but the rain is beginning to fall a little too hard this afternoon. The ProCamps emcee diverts everyone from the football field outside to the basketball gym inside.
With campers on one side and parents on the other, it’s standing room only for everybody else. There are banners hanging from the walls for Adidas, Nicholas Air — just in case anyone in the Haughton area is interested in fractional jet ownership — and other sponsors that have attached themselves to Prescott.
Said banners are underneath others for the likes of Bellevue Meat and the Davis Law Office. Guess which ones were hung today.
Once a handful of awards are given for some of the top campers, each of the 72 teams gets to take a photo with Prescott. This exercise alone takes the better part of an hour. At no point does his expression turn cranky.
After every shot, Prescott gets a high five from all the kids — You have fun? — and then shakes hands with the volunteer coaches. He thanks them profusely for their time. Repeating this sequence six dozen times, although the pattern looks similar from one to the next, nothing about it feels the least bit disingenuous.
Just like before the camp started, Prescott is handed the microphone to say a few words as the event concludes.
“Dream big now,” he says.
That’s clearly the message Prescott wants to leave with the 700-plus kids in the bleachers. It wasn’t too long ago when he was right where they are now, roaming the halls of Haughton High School like many of them soon will.
Prescott gets asked all the time if he ever envisioned his life turning out the way it has. He was just voted No. 14 in NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2016” following his rookie campaign. Among quarterbacks, only Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers finished higher. Romo never did better than 34th.
He has but one response to that question: “Yes.” As a matter of fact, he did see himself as the star signal caller in Big D.
This part of Louisiana is actually closer to Dallas than New Orleans. When Prescott was a kid, the town was 50-50 between Cowboys fans — he was one of them — and Saints fans. But it’s about 75-25 in favor of the ‘Boys nowadays.
Not only is the “dream big now” catchphrase for campers, but it’s for Kennedy, as well. If she grows up to be a successful athlete or doctor or teacher or coach, when people ask her one day if she saw her life turning out as such, Prescott wants her answer to be “yes,” too. He didn’t put a limit on his wishes, so neither should she.
Two camps down. One to go. But first, Trejo’s in Shreveport, a Mexican joint. Time to be funny and crazy with Kennedy. No media allowed.
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