Prescott has blocked out the noise from ‘the sunken place’

Star-Telegram - - Sports - BY CLARENCE E. HILL JR. [email protected]­gram.com

It seems fit­ting that Dal­las Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott’s op­por­tu­nity to make history is tak­ing him back to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

It’s where he got his first NFL start back on Aug. 13, 2016 against these Los An­ge­les Rams, which just so hap­pened to be the same day the NFL re­turned to LA after a 21-year hia­tus.

Prescott went on to fash­ion the finest rookie sea­son of any quar­ter­back in NFL history.

But life is never that easy and fairy tales, even in Cal­i­for­nia, come with their share of strug­gles and plot twists.

He quickly went from a rookie sen­sa­tion head first into a sopho­more slump in 2017, prompt­ing ques­tions about him be­ing ex­posed, to be­ing put in the so­called “sunken place” dur­ing a train­ing camp in Ox­nard - 60 miles north of Los An­ge­les - be­fore the 2018 sea­son be­cause of his stance re­gard­ing the so­cial jus­tice protests dur­ing the na­tional an­them.

Now Prescott has the Cow­boys facing the Rams in the NFC Di­vi­sional play­offs back at the LA Coli­seum, one win away from their first trip to the NFC ti­tle game in 23 years and two away from their first trip to the Su­per Bowl since their last Su­per Bowl ti­tle in 1995.

His abil­ity to block out the noise and play his best when it mat­ters most late in games has car­ried the Cow­boys back to the brink of history.

It can be traced back to his steel re­solve and never wa­ver­ing stance in train­ing camp when his game, cul­ture and man­hood could have been shaken. Vi­ral im­ages of a dis­re­spect­ful mu­ral erected in Dal­las by an Ar­ling­tonarea artist who es­sen­tially ac­cused Prescott of sell­ing out be­cause he said he pre­ferred to stand for the an­them rather than kneel in protest against racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity.

If you think facing down Rams de­fen­sive tackle Aaron Don­ald is tough then con­sider the plight of a bira­cial kid who grew up in tiny Haughton, Louisiana be­ing placed in the sunken place from Jor­dan Peele’s Academy Award-win­ning film “Get Out.”

The iconic im­age of a

black man, star­ing ahead in silent ter­ror, with tears stream­ing down his face gives off the im­pres­sion of Prescott hav­ing his feel­ings on the so­cial just protests and the an­them be­ing con­trolled by Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones, who de­manded all his play­ers stand for the an­them.

Prescott clar­i­fied his thoughts to the Star-Tele­gram in Au­gust. He said some were taken out of con­text and that he sup­ports the protests but pre­ferred to do things a dif­fer­ent way. He never backed down in his be­lief about stand­ing for the an­them and never let the crit­i­cism get to him.

“Peo­ple think the way they think, it’s not my job to make them think a cer­tain way,” Prescott said out­side the locker room Thurs­day. “I was talk­ing to a friend about it the other day. He said, ‘when peo­ple say stuff whether it true or false how do you re­act? Does it bother you?’ And I was like ‘no’ be­cause there is enough stuff said about me whether it was true or false, it doesn’t mat­ter. The mo­ment it mat­ters is the mo­ment I give it any kind of an­swer or re­sponse. I don’t care to.

“My job in life is not to please peo­ple. I am not in the peo­ple-pleas­ing busi­ness. It is not to care what peo­ple say or to re­act to what peo­ple say or to give them what they want.”

It’s an at­ti­tude the serves Prescott well on and off the field. You have to have thick skin to play quar­ter­back for the Cow­boys.

Since com­ing into the league in 2016, Prescott has won more games than any quar­ter­back in the NFL ex­cept for Tom Brady. He has led the Cow­boys to two di­vi­sion ti­tles and has one less play­off win than Romo dur­ing his 10 years with the Cow­boys.

Yet, Prescott has yet to be fully em­braced by Cow­boys fans who still yearn for Romo ev­ery time he misses a throw.

While he has in­structed friends and fam­ily not to bother him with stuff they hear - he even turned off a ra­dio show while in the car with a friend re­cently be­cause the talk turned neg­a­tive - it was Prescott who ini­tially shared the im­ages of the “Get Out” mu­ral with his older broth­ers, Tad and Jace.

They all shared a laugh about it be­cause they knew it came from a place of ig­no­rance re­gard­ing who Prescott was and where he came from.

“I don’t think it both- ered him at all,” Tad said. “We are from a mul­tira­cial fam­ily. We were raised right by our fam­ily. Dak has a high re­spect for the flag and the mil­i­tary. Our grand­fa­ther served in the mil­i­tary. He took it with a grain of salt. He sent the im­age to me, my brother Jace and a few friends and said this is kind of funny and took it as it is. Dak re­spects the thoughts of oth­ers. But he be­lieves in what he be­lieves in.

“It may have both­ered some peo­ple closer to my dad. My aunt, my mom’s sis­ter, wasn’t too happy about it. Those peo­ple don’t know Dak. They don’t know how we were brought up, how were raised. It was just peo­ple hat­ing. Dak has had haters. He can’t al­low it to bother him. The mo­ment has never been too big for him.”

That Prescott didn’t let it bother and thus has thrived on and off the field is a tes­ta­ment to how he was raised, per Cow­boys run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott, who also joined the Cow­boys in 2016 and has been tied at the hip with his quar­ter­back ever since.

El­liott said Prescott has been poised since his rookie sea­son and he has never seen him let things bother him or get him down.

“Never. One, it’s part of the way he was raised,” El­liott said. “Two, it’s part of where he played col­lege ball (at Mississippi State). Ev­ery week hav­ing a big game, play­ing against big op­po­nents. Three, just the type of man he is. I am glad to have him on my team.”

Prescott is the man he is be­cause of how he was raised by his later mother, Peggy, who died of can­cer dur­ing his sopho­more year in col­lege.

“It’s 100 per­cent what my mom taught me. Con­trol what you can con­trol,” Prescott said. “The rest is opin­ions. I have no bone in my body that cares what peo­ple think.”

She cer­tainly didn’t care what peo­ple thought.

“It comes from our mom,” Tad said. “Our mom is a white woman who fell in love and had chil­dren with a black man in a small town in Louisiana. She grew up hear­ing ev­ery­thing and be­ing called ev­ery­thing in the book that was deroga­tory and neg­a­tive on the fact of who she was. Then again she was the sin­gle mother to three black young men. We grew up know­ing what to ex­pect, what she dealt with and the looks that she got.”

“We are talk­ing about a white lady grow­ing up in the 70s with a black man,” Prescott said. “Her par­ents told her not to. And she did be­cause that is what she wanted to do.

“So if I lis­tened to what peo­ple said or what they thought they would have wrote me off from the mo­ment they saw I was the youngest of three boys liv­ing in a sin­gle wide trailer with three bed­rooms. He didn’t have the money to go to camp and (ex­ple­tive) like that. But I never lis­tened to what peo­ple said and al­ways kept on my path. That’s the only thing that mat­ters. That is why I am here.”

Tad re­calls his bother be­ing told he would never play quar­ter­back in high school be­fore win­ning the job as a sopho­more and then be­ing told by thenLSU head coach Les Miles that he would never be a quar­ter­back in the SEC be­fore go­ing to Mississippi State and lead­ing them to a No. 1 rank­ing.

He’s over­come doubters his en­tire life.

Still, the crit­i­cism of this year from the “Sunken Place” to the Romo talk brought him to tears ear­lier in the sea­son.

“I hear it. I watch and lis­ten to ev­ery show. I hear all the crit­i­cism and com­par­i­son,” Tad said. “I prob­a­bly want it more than he does. I called him one day, just talk­ing to him about the game and I started cry­ing it was just on the voice mail and I told him I’m sorry I have no idea why I am cry­ing. And he hit me back and said ‘its cool some­times you just got to let it out.”

“It was me telling him, ‘you are leader of men and you are play­ing this game. This game needs to be fun.’ “I was like, ‘I hear what these peo­ple are say­ing about you bro and I know you say you tune it but by some chance you are lis­ten­ing to it, don’t. This is a game. All of us grew up say­ing we are go­ing to be pro­fes­sional foot­ball play­ers one day. We are go­ing to have this and we are go­ing to have that. Jace and I missed our shot. You are liv­ing the dream. Don’t take that for granted. Take it for it what it is. It’s a big­ger plat­form to do more for more peo­ple. En­joy it.’”

“That is where I say I want it more than him. I was one of his lit­tle league coaches. And just know­ing him Jace and I taught this to our lit­tle brother this is one of the things that we passed down. And to watch him thrive and do what he does on the field. It brings me joy than any­thing in this world. I know more than any­thing he wants to win this game and win in this sit­u­a­tion.”

COUR­TESY Trey Wilder

Trey Wilder cre­ated a mu­ral in which Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott por­trays an iconic im­age from Jor­dan Peele’s award-win­ning film “Get Out.”

MARK J. TERRILL AP

Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff, right, and Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott meet after a pre­sea­son game in Los An­ge­les in Au­gust 2016. The game rep­re­sented Prescott ‘s first start as an NFL sig­nal caller.

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