With just one month before the start of football season, the onslaught of game previews, power rankings and College Football Playoff predictions is at a fevered pitch across the myriad of blogs and forums that litter the internet.
And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily.
Who doesn’t want to fantasize about winning the SEC West (let’s be honest, nobody fantasizes about winning the East. That’s like kissing your sister), or better yet winning a National Championship? I still fall asleep thinking about the Auburn game from two years ago. If you don’t remember, that was the game that completed State’s ascension to the top of the college football world. I would never begrudge anyone, fan or player, from taking a minute to relive the glory days or fantasize about the upcoming season.
But that’s not what I am here for. I could draw up a rankings list, or tell you that State will go 9-3 (which I think they have a great chance to do), but there are hundreds of people more qualified than I to do that. Instead, I want to talk about something I think is more in my wheelhouse. The past.
You see, I don’t really know a lot about the future. While my incredible wit (see: @bascott2010 on Twitter) does make me appear to be all-knowing, the truth is I’m not. So as many predictions and projections as I might make, and I will make a few over the course of this football season, the one thing I can never do is tell you the future. But I can tell you about the past. Because I was there.
Now you may ask yourself “Blake, why would I need you to tell me about the past? What could you possibly know that I don’t already?” Good question, avid reader. Let me answer it with this question: Would you have read this far if you didn’t want to hear what I have to say? Exactly. So keep reading and I’ll show you why what I have to say may be a little different than what you have heard before.
Everyone wants to discuss the upcoming season, who will win what games and how many times will the officials blow a call in favor of Nick Saban and Alabama (over/under 100?). I want to talk about the fans. Because that’s what I am. I was a student and athletic department intern while I lived in Starkville. I could tell you story upon story about what I saw and did and experienced in my time there. And the story I’m here to tell you today is from that time period.
I interviewed Rayne Dakota Prescott, or, as State fans affectionately call him, the greatest quarterback to play the game of football, after his last season at Mississippi State. It was during Spring Practices, and Hailstate Productions was putting together a video for SEC Network’s Signing Day special programming. I guess saying I interviewed Dak is slightly incorrect, Bob Carskadon was asking the questions. I held the camera though. Actually I didn’t even do that, a tripod did. So basically I was there and turned the camera on. The point is, I was there.
What I saw was something I will never forget. Even then, Dak had this aura about him. I was in absolute awe. I’ve met Will Clark, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I actually went dove hunting with Will when I was in high school. I’ve shaken the hands of CEO’s, professional athletes and one sitting US President. I have never been more in awe than when I met Dak. I grew up praying for a superstar to come to State and take us to the next level in football. I can’t tell you how many players I created on different video games to win championship after championship for the Maroon and White. But this, this was real.
Bob began asking Dak about the details of his recruitment, how he picked MSU and what advice would he give to incoming freshman or high schoolers being recruited currently. You can find the interview online if you really want to know what he said. That is not important for what I want to tell you. I told you Dak had this aura about him. It was like he knew how good he was, and how good he would be in the NFL. There was a quiet confidence in the way he moved, the way he answered questions. Off camera, there was no change. Now I’m not professing to know Dak Prescott on any personal level, but I don’t think there is a person alive who can be something they aren’t 24/7, so I feel confident in saying that’s just who Dak is. He just knew he was better than the people around him. Not in a bad way, he wasn’t a jerk, but you could feel this separation between him and everyone in the room. It literally gave me chills down my back.
The interview went fine, it was over in less than fifteen minutes. I never spent anymore time with Dak, other than watching him on the practice field when I was interviewing other players (I actually did conduct interviews, I’m not completely useless), but I felt like I had seen him as more than just a god-like figure on the football field. And that showed me what a true leader, a true quarterback should be. I saw the same thing in Nick Fitzgerald.
Nobody thought Nick had a chance to be THE guy after the loss to South Alabama to start the 2016 season. Although the athleticism was undeniable, the play on the field wasn’t translating. There was a rumbling in the undercurrents of the MSU fanbase that head coach Dan Mullen had not prepared a suitable replacement for Dak and that the team was headed back to the gutter. Whether that was a fair assumption to make after just one game is irrelevant now; it was unequivocally false. As you all know, Fitzgerald ended the season as one of the best offensive producers in the SEC, and helped keep MSU in more games than he played them out of. The Nick Fitzgerald that torched Ole Miss for a school-record 258 rushing yards and became the first quarterback in MSU history, including Dak, to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Nick is not Dak, and he never will be. It doesn’t mean he can’t be just as good, if not better.
I’m not trying to sit here and tell you that Nick Fitzgerald will have the impact that Dak Prescott had at MSU. I’m not sure if anyone could come close to doing what he did. Dak put Bulldog Football back on the map, taking a bottom-dweller and turning it into the first #1 team in the history of the College Football Playoff. He was a Heisman candidate and now a bonafide star in the NFL. And Nick may never do anything like that. But, Fitzgerald has proven he can do things Dak never did. It’s in the numbers. And if you ask him, he will adamantly deny that he’s the next Dak, or that he’s supposed to be like Dak. He will tell you, as he told me, it isn’t about Dak, and it isn’t about Nick.
You asked me earlier, loyal reader, if I could tell you anything about MSU that you didn’t already know. I don’t know if I did that or not, and I don’t really care. You see, I don’t spend my time writing to tell you what you need to know, or what I think is important. I write to tell a story. And this story is still unfinished. Nick Fitzgerald has two years left to leave his mark on Mississippi State. Two years to determine what legacy he will leave behind.
I told you that I don’t know the future. That’s still true, but I can tell you what I think will happen. That’s all a Power Ranking or schedule prediction does. So here’s my prediction: Nick Fitzgerald will be good. That is, ultimately, what makes this season so appealing. What if Nick is as good as Dak? What if he’s better? I can’t tell you the answer. All I can do is write the story as it happens. I know what I want to take place, and I know what is possible.
It’s the past that dictates the future. And that’s why it’s the past that I focus on when I tell this story. The work ethic, the drive; it’s the same in Nick as it was in Dak. And if history is cyclical in nature, the future sure does look bright on the gridiron.
But what do I know, I’m just a fan.
-Photo Creds to Yahoo Sports-