FRISCO, Texas – It'd be understandable to wonder whether Dak Prescott might change his number in this time between the preseason and Sunday's season opener against the Giants.
Prescott became a Mississippi State legend wearing No. 15, a number which recently became vacant when the Cowboys trimmed their roster for the regular season.
Stop and consider the significance of the choice, though – Prescott's late mother, Peggy, was born on Sept. 4, and she passed away in November of 2013 after a long battle with colon cancer. In light of that, it makes sense why the rookie quarterback would choose to stick with the number that got him here.
"My mom's birthday -- yeah definitely, just passed this weekend -- was a special day, kind of a day I really don't do much," Prescott said. "I just kind of chill, think about her. Think about her good memories, things like that."
In the time since he lost her, Prescott has never let his mother slip far from his mind. He has a tattoo honoring her memory, and he writes her notes on his phone during reflective and important moments in his life.
Prescott is in the thick of preparations for his first NFL start – a process that requires him to live in the moment, as both he and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett have emphasized. Despite that, he couldn't deny that this was one of those moments – and that his mother will assuredly hear about it.
"Yeah, she'll definitely be getting a text Saturday night before going into the game Sunday – just reflecting," he said. "I think that's the moment -- yeah, I do look back and I kind of say, to myself, See where I am in life?'"
[embeddedad0]It's an insane journey, even when it's summarized. From an overlooked prospect in nearby Haughton, La., to a Heisman Trophy candidate at Mississippi State – overcoming the death of his mother at the age of 20 and growing from a DUI arrest that likely harmed his draft stock just last spring.
He didn't only come through all of that as the No. 135 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He's also made so much of an opportunity that, six weeks after starting training camp as the Cowboys' No. 3 quarterback, he's poised to open the season as the starter against a division rival.
Prescott allowed again that the circumstances can hit him on occasion, but at the same time, his situation is the result of more than just one summer's worth of work.
"You set goals and you have dreams, but you have to work your butt off to get there and I think I worked hard," he said. "I've worked a long time very, very hard but there's more I want to accomplish in my life and this is just another step."
With that thought in mind, there's still a long way to go until Sunday. Prescott has two more practices, and -- thanks to the advent of technology – he's got ample opportunity to keep his head in the playbook.
"We've got iPads now so I'm fortunate, I can keep that on me at all times," he said. "As soon as there is nothing going on I pull my iPad out and start watching cut ups or watching the game."
That's bound to register with Garrett, who has consistently listed Prescott's approach as one of his greatest attributes. From a freshly-drafted rookie near the bottom of the depth chart to the team's starting quarterback, Garrett said that hasn't deviated much this whole time.
"He's a very professional guy in his approach," Garrett said. "He comes in, he's got a poise and a composure about him that's beyond his years, and he understands the importance of preparation."
The preparation is going to close, and the entire NFL will soon be itching to see if Prescott can build on his impressive preseason. The Giants spent $200 million revamping their defense this offseason with the additions of Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins. They also spent a top 10 pick to help bolster their secondary in cornerback Eli Apple.
It might be a different feel from the preseason – and certainly a different level of competition. But Prescott said Sunday will only be different for him in one way.
"No by any means in the way I prepare or anything like that. It's just that this one counts," he said. "Go out there and play a whole game, put my best out there."
That's the issue that has to wait until Sunday – just how well can the rookie fare while Tony Romo sits out injured? It's not a stretch to say that how well Prescott handles the challenge will determine how successful the Cowboys can hope to be.
In the interim, though, while he continues to prepare, Prescott can reflect on a dream made reality. As he will tell you, as his mother could have attested, that's exactly what this is.
"As long as dreams were possible in your head -- a long time," he said. "From a little kid, the moment I picked up a ball. I've been a Cowboys fan and wanted to play in the NFL. I'll be excited and make sure I'm ready for it."