OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — Dak Prescott turned 30 early in training camp, not long after record attendance from teammates when he hosted yet another pre-camp rendezvous.
The Dallas Cowboys star keeps falling short in trying to lead his team where Tony Romo couldn't — deep in the playoffs for at least a swing at a Super Bowl title.
Prescott keeps coming back, too, always aware of how legacies are defined for Dallas quarterbacks with Roger Staubach's two championships in the 1970s and Troy Aikman's trio in the ’90s.
And always a little hungrier to be that third title-winning QB for America's Team, one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world.
“Had a lot of adversity within this game and outside of this game,” Prescott said. “It’s just shaped me to be the man, the leader and I think the right guy for this team to get us exactly there.
“It’s about using adversity and using our scars, embracing them and making sure we’re holding ourselves accountable to those and investing more time into what once caused those scars to make sure that is going to be our strength as we move forward.”
Some of Prescott's scars are mental, including divisional-round playoff losses in three of his seven seasons — three more failed attempts to get the Cowboys to the NFC championship game for first time since their most recent Super Bowl title to finish the 1995 season.
Some scars are physical, including multiple surgeries to repair the gruesome lower right leg injury that ended his 2020 season in Week 5.
Some scars are on the stat sheet, such as tying for the NFL lead in interceptions last season with 15 despite missing five games with a broken thumb.
Prescott had one of the best games of his career in a 31-14 wild-card victory over Tampa Bay that sent Tom Brady into retirement last season. But he followed it with a divisional-round clunker against San Francisco, similar to another loss to the 49ers in a wild-card game a year earlier.
Romo's run of trying to end Dallas' playoff futility came to an abrupt halt in 2016 when he was injured and replaced by Prescott.
A starter from the beginning, Prescott was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after leading an 11-game winning streak that carried Dallas to the top seed in the NFC.
The Cowboys lost to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in the playoff debut of Prescott, who now has a 2-4 postseason record.
“The way my rookie year went, it kind of messed my head up and I didn’t think it’d be this hard in the six years following,” Prescott said. “But I don’t want it if it’s easy. I’ve never gotten anything easy in my life. I don’t ask for anything and I’m damn sure not going to ask now. That’s part of it.”
The offseason gatherings that are now a routine with Prescott usually draw about a half-dozen teammates. He said there were 17 in Georgia recently, and all the rookies showing up got his attention.
“You know there’s always going to be one of those guys you need late in the year to make a play, you’re going to need one of those guys to get moved up from practice squad, you’re going to need one of those guys to come in on third down and make that catch,” Prescott said. “We need them. We need their focus and attention.”
Owner Jerry Jones signed Prescott to a $160 million, four-year contract two years ago, and still believes in him enough to say an extension is coming.
“Somebody's been asking about, 'Well, he’s 30, hasn't won a Super Bowl, such and such won it at 27,'” the 80-year-old Jones said. “I don't know, but I don't remember what I could do at 27 that I couldn't do at 30. Talk to me 10 years from now, and we'll talk about his age a little bit.”
Rodgers was 28 when he won the first of four NFL MVPs in 2011, the season after winning a Super Bowl in Green Bay with Dallas coach Mike McCarthy, who is taking over as Prescott's play-caller this year.
McCarthy remembers telling Rodgers after that MVP season that he had complete command of the offense, and the challenge going forward was being himself and growing with receivers and backs.
“When I look at Dak, I think he’s entering that phase of his career,” McCarthy said. “He has a complete understanding of the offense, but where he is today is because the changes we have made, he just needs reps in. Because at the end of the day, the master of the offense is what gives us the best chance to be who we are and I think he’s definitely, he’s right there.”
The roster might be the best since Prescott arrived, even with the release of two-time rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott in a cost-cutting move.
Elliott's absence means Prescott, a fourth-round pick after Elliott went fourth overall, is the last Dallas player left from the 2016 draft class. That's another reminder of what Prescott is chasing.
“It just speaks of urgency,” he said. “It’s not forever for everybody and I know what I want to do. I know what I want to accomplish. And I know what this team wants, and it’s about that now.”
Prescott is ready for another run at it.