HOOVER, Ala. – Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has an ace up his sleeve in recruiting. Actually, it’s more like a star.
The recent rise of Mullen’s former pupil, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, is further proof that he can produce top signal-callers, and Mullen said such name recognition matters in recruiting.
“You say ‘Dak’ and most people know,” Mullen said at SEC Media Days. “It’s hard to become a one-name person. Dak has kind of become that. People see that, then they’ll go back and see that he was the two- or three-star player out of high school that wasn’t heavily recruited. How did he become the guy that he is today?”
Mullen deserves for Prescott’s rise, as he went from fourth-round rookie to bona-fide star last season. That has opened the door for Mullen when he reaches out to other prospective quarterbacks.
“If we try to get in touch with them, they’re going to take our call,” he said.
And for prospective recruits, that should resonate with those who may not have seen two of Mullen’s other students: former Utah quarterback Alex Smith or former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Both were coached by Mullen, who was then an offensive coordinator, to successful college careers and a shot in the NFL.
Mullen now has a new project. After a breakout season in 2016, junior Nick Fitzgerald is an emerging star in Starkville and perhaps beyond.
“I think Nick, at this stage of his career, has more potential than Dak did, but we’ve got to see does he have that mindset, that demeanor, that grind,” Mullen said. “Dak is one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever been around in my life.”
Mullen said for every quarterback, it’s important to realize that becoming a great quarterback isn’t about a quantum leap.
“There’s no immediate jump. … It’s a very, very long process, especially at the quarterback position,” Mullen said. “You have to remind those guys, ‘You’re developing.’ Drew Brees and Tom Brady are still developing as quarterbacks.”
Mullen recalled the advice he gave Prescott during his Bulldogs years.
“You’re going to be a better quarterback this year than you were last year because you’re continually developing every single day to be the best that you can be,” Mullen said. “If you achieve a certain level today, then you have an opportunity to be just a little bit better tomorrow. That’s what we do with quarterbacks and we expect a much better player out of Nick this year than last year.”
Even if Fitzgerald follows his coach’s advice, it doesn’t mean the Georgia native will suddenly become a constant highlight reel. Quite the opposite.
“I don’t know if he’ll make all the spectacular plays,” Mullen said. “But you’ll see a better quarterback this year than you saw last year.”
The key? Fitzgerald has to be the same type of hard worker that Mullen grew accustomed to with Prescott, Smith and Tebow.
“They have a great desire to be the best they can be every single day,” Mullen said. “Nick is still learning how to be that grinder.”
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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