Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott is a leader at the heart of America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. This season, the quarterback returns to the field with a new contract and strengthened resolve after a brutal ankle injury that caused him to miss 11 games. When he does, he’ll do so as the sole quarterback and member of the Dallas Cowboys on the current Jordan Brand roster.

Dak’s journey started before he could even hold a full-sized football with one hand. With two athletic older brothers who played in high school, he got to know coaches, players and the game when he was around five years old. More than ten years later, in front of a crowd of about 8,000, he led the same high school to a 2010 District 1-4A championship while playing on a torn MCL. In the process, he capped a perfect regular season. From there, Dak’s legend as a southern football hero sprouted its first roots.

Dak was recruited by Mississippi State University, though his ascent there was gradual. After he was redshirted for his rookie season in 2011, he made school and conference history during his two full seasons as the starter in 2014 and 2015, two of the best years of any MSU athlete ever. He totaled 9,376 passing yards and 70 passing touchdowns, along with 2,521 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns — good enough for 38 school records and one of the most prolific offensive careers in college football. He put in work off the field, as well, earning an undergraduate degree in educational psychology and a master’s degree in workforce leadership.

Dak’s professional career started similarly to his college path. He was selected with the 135th pick in the fourth round to be a backup, but that didn’t last long. His elite talent and mature leadership catapulted him to become the NFL’s 2016 offensive Rookie of the Year with a 13-3 record. In the 69 straight starts before his ankle injury, Prescott racked up two Pro Bowls, 106 passing touchdowns, 24 rushing touchdowns, 17,643 passing yards and a 1.7 percent interception rate, one of the best in NFL history.

Always one to push forward with positive momentum, on and off the field, Dak started a foundation to help fund cancer research and is outspoken about mental health. We sat down with him to discuss Jordans, why helping people is so important to him and how he became one of the most exciting players in the league. Welcome to the family, Dak.

What does it feel like to be a part of the Jordan Brand Family?

It feels exclusive, to say the least. To be a part of this family, to be a part of Jumpman, to be associated with MJ himself — it’s elite. There aren’t many of us, so I’m just excited to be the only quarterback, the only Dallas Cowboy. I’m excited to represent the Brand in the right way and always carry myself at a championship level.

What are some of your favorite MJ moments? Did anything from The Last Dance stand out to you?

When you study greatness, he’s at the top of the list. He’s the first guy you want to study — how he got successful and what drove him. From the chip on his shoulder due to being cut in high school basketball to seeing the way he led his team in The Last Dance, MJ pursued excellence on and off the court. The way he carried himself will always stand out to me. He’s the ultimate competitor. I have aspects of that competitive edge. Each and every day I go out there, I’m trying to prove myself.

What does it mean for you to represent the Jordan Brand on a football field versus a basketball court or elsewhere?

It’s huge. It’s about representing the mentality of MJ himself, the one that embodies the Jumpman. It’s about being a champion, an ultimate competitor. I’m excited to be part of an exclusive family that gets to represent excellence, have all the swaggy gear, do everything the right way and most importantly, chase championships.

Have you seen or worked on any of your Jordan cleats for the upcoming year? Are there any that you’re particularly excited about?

I love the cleats. That was a big part of joining the Brand, just knowing the way the cleats feel and the heat they’re bringing each season. We’ve had some calls about the first part of the season, what I plan on wearing pre-game and otherwise. I don’t want to give it all away, but it’s definitely exclusive. I’m excited about all of them, from the Is to the Xs to the cool grays. It’s going to be a special season.

Do you remember your first pair of Jordans?

I believe my first pair of Jordans was in eighth grade, and they were a gift. I had a cousin who was dating an NFL player at the time, and he was just giving away some shoes he had. I was the fortunate beneficiary, and I actually got a few pairs. I remember I had a pair of green and white and green IVs that really hit home for me. I’d come home from school and clean them up after every time I wore them. 

There’s a certain attitude and style of play that comes with being a Jordan athlete. How would you describe that in your own game?

For me, it’s being the ultimate competitor and doing whatever it takes to win at all costs. I’m a guy who goes out there and wants to lead all of his teammates, to make sure they know that mentality. That’s something I’ve carried with me since the moment I started playing this game. I’m trying to be the best, and I’m trying to win. 

“A big part of my job is taking care of the ball, and I take pride in that. ”

Speaking of the mentality, you have one tattoo that reads, “allow me to be your story,” and another one that reads, “MOM,” which stands for Mind Over Matter. How have you learned to maintain your mental strength through extremely difficult times, both personally and professionally?

I know my purpose. I love this game, and I do it for my mom. That’s what my mom told me when she was sick, “Allow me to be your story, all the greats have a story.” At the time, I was like, “I don’t need that to be my story.” As you fast-forward time, there’s not a day I wake up and don’t think about allowing my mom to be my story.

The MOM tattoo refers to my mom when she was going through her battle with cancer. We used to say “mind over matter” since it was taking a toll on her physically. She always said it wasn’t going to take her mind. No matter what I do, no matter what adversity comes into my life, it’s mind over matter. I’m going to keep my mind right, and I’m going to win that challenge. That’s a credit to my mom, my story and who I am.

Switching gears to the field, you have one of the lowest interception rates in the NFL. How do you do that? How do you reduce risk and not turn the ball over when you’re throwing 50-plus times in a game?

Ball security is job security. If I’m out there giving it to the other team, they’re going to be looking to put somebody else in my position. That’s something I learned at a young age. I came home from practice one day, and I was bummed. I told my mom, “Man, I threw a couple of interceptions at practice.” And she said, “Well, why are you practicing that?” I think it goes back to practicing good habits and preparing for the game the right way. A big part of my job is taking care of the ball, and I take pride in that.

You’re a huge advocate for mental health. How do you hope to change the conversation around mental health, and why is it so important to you?

Yeah, it’s huge for me. I went to school for psychology, lost my brother to suicide and I’ve seen what this conversation has sparked. It’s grown in the last year and a half, and men have started to come out and talk about how vulnerable they are and their weaknesses. This is a physical sport, and everybody wants to be macho, but it all starts in the brain. It all starts with how you feel mentally, so you’ve got to take care of the mind first.

It’s important for me to be transparent, to be genuine. As a leader, you’ve got to lead the right way by being genuine and transparent. I always say that a fruit tree isn’t made for itself. A fruit tree doesn’t eat itself, it’s for other people. That’s something I try to live by. I was put on this earth to lead and to give people energy.

You’ve also been nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, and you have your own foundation. What do you want your legacy to be?

When it’s all said and done, I want to be known as the best football player there is. I want people to say, “He was the greatest on the field, but he was an even better man.”