STARKVILLE — Three months ago, Mississippi State football fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief when MSU quarterback Dak Prescott, who finished eighth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2014, would be returning for his senior season.
But with all the security that Prescott’s return brings to a team that will gladly take his 42 touchdowns and over 4,000 total yards, that return also brings one major question: Who will be waiting in the wings when Prescott graduates as one of MSU’s greatest players in program history?
Fans might be able to catch a glimpse of that answer on Saturday afternoon.
Lining up across from Prescott as quarterback in MSU spring game, set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, will be one of those signal callers vying to become Prescott’s heir apparent. And judging by the spring he’s already had, redshirt freshman Nick Fitzgerald may be up to the task.
Fitzgerald, a freshman from Richmond Hill, Georgia, has taken advantage of injuries to fellow backups Damian Williams and Elijah Staley this spring, taking the majority of the snaps behind Prescott.
And he’s performed admirably. On Saturday, Fitzgerald goes prime time when MSU fans will get their first look at Fitzgerald since last spring.
“I’m pleased with what I see out of Nick so far,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “He looks like a very, very different player, even (more) than he did in winter at bowl prep. You can see he’s invested in the offseason, investing in learning and knowing what’s going on out there on the field.”
Fitzgerald arrived at MSU after a standout career at Richmond Hill, where he rushed for 1,579 yards as a senior. A three-star recruit, he headed to MSU with little fanfare and enrolled in January of 2014. It was early enough to go through spring practice when most of his contemporaries were getting ready for prom. Almost immediately, Fitzgerald began to show promise. In MSU’s spring game a year ago, he completed 17 of his 26 passes for 175 yards.
This spring, he’s been even better. He produced 23 completions for 247 yards and two touchdowns in an intrasquad scrimmage at the stadium two weeks ago, and he added 241 more yards and another score in the same situation last week. With Williams and Staley both out, the backup’s spotlight has belonged to Fitzgerald.
“I’ve got a long way to go,” Fitzgerald said. “But I’m getting there.”
Fitzgerald is one of several young players who have stepped into the forefront this spring. There’s also a pair of freshmen at tailback – Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams – who will compete in front of a stadium full of MSU fans for the first time on Saturday. The duo has combined for 315 yards and five touchdowns in the aforementioned intrasquad scrimmages. There’s also linebacker Gerri Green, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound heir apparent to former defensive leader Benardrick McKinney, and junior college All-American Donald Gray, who has shined at slot receiver.
But given the nature of the position of quarterback, Fitzgerald may demand the most attention Saturday.
That’s fine with him, as he continues to learn behind Prescott.
“Everyone wants to play, but it’s really good to have a guy like him come back,” Fitzgerald said. “I get to really watch him and learn what he does. He has so much respect from the team. That’s something I have another year to build up before I’ll have a chance to start.”