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Dak Prescott Smiles at His Scars

Photographer Michael J. Le Brecht II explains how he captured the QB’s ‘joy amongst it all.’

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Michael J. Le Brecht II was down on his stomach, lying on the turf of the practice field at Dak Prescott’s home. His camera pointed up at the Cowboys’ QB and, more specifically, at the scars that marked his surgically repaired right ankle.

The scars might draw you in. But, it’s hard to leave Prescott’s face. His eyes, like yours might, look at the physical reminder of pain. Yet he smiles as if those memories don’t symbolize pain anymore.

“You only have a few seconds to connect with an athlete,” Le Brecht says about his shoot with Prescott. “When you get them to kind of relax and be in their own thoughts but yet showcase their energy, that’s really powerful. Those are the ones you kind of feel, and you know when you click that you know it’s a good one.”

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In the football preview issue of SI, that particular image of Prescott spans two pages, helping set the tone for Bishop’s recounting of Prescott’s ability to cope with “a year that included his brother’s suicide and a career-altering injury.”

“Deep into his worst 18 months ever—those miserable, universe-questioning, transformative months—Dak gleaned important wisdom that he would carry into the 2021 season. Just thinking about others, their pain, helped him to deal with his own,” writes Greg Bishop.

Le Brecht, who started at the magazine as a photo assistant in 1997, has photographed numerous covers for SI and now has his own creative brand. He has developed throughout his career the ability to ask sensitive questions. He specializes in portraiture, which Le Brecht says allows him to break out of certain restrictions and have more creative control.

“It’s how you deliver that question,” Le Brecht says about asking Prescott to photograph his scars. “It’s really important that you show empathy toward that person.”

It also helps to be familiar with a subject. And Le Brecht, though he hadn’t met Prescott before he photographed him, was plenty familiar with Prescott’s story.

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As a child of the 1980s, Le Brecht says that his NFL fandom had two potential routes: Cowboys or Steelers. While his brother went with Pittsburgh, Le Brecht chose Dallas and he’s been following the team ever since.

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Le Brecht was driving through the Holland Tunnel when he got the call about the assignment. His first response, he says, was, Are you kidding me? His second was to call his 11-year-old daughter.

“I said, Sienna, guess who Daddy is going to go shoot? And, right away, she says, Dak Prescott! She actually shares a birthday with Dak and she’s the one who gravitates to the Cowboys a little bit [compared to his two older children]. That was really, really cool,” he says.

With Prescott as the franchise QB of his favorite team, Le Brecht knew many of the general details of Bishop’s story and talked with the writer beforehand. Those discussions led to the image that ultimately ended up on the cover of the issue, a tight shot of a uniformed Prescott’s face.

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“I knew the direction we were going,” Le Brecht says. “I think the strongest thing that came out of it that made the image powerful was that he shows in his expression that he has gone through something, but he’s also determined to keep going. To me, that’s very powerful.”

Prescott didn’t go through these challenges alone, though. And when his brother Tad came by, it presented another opportunity for Le Brecht to continue to highlight where Prescott has been and where his mindset is now.

“Knowing the family connection, knowing how important it would be to Dak to have his brother in the article as well, I kind of offered that to the writer,” he says. “That’s his brother, man. That’s his blood. He’s very much about family.”

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As the brothers sat in the front seats of a Ferrari, Le Brecht leaned against the hood, capturing Dak and Tad through the windshield in “a natural moment of them just kind of laughing.”

“It showcased a little joy amongst it all,” he says. “And that’s O.K. Things happen, as horrible as they are. But we have to move on. You can’t stay in sorrow, you know.”

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram and visit SI.com/photos. If you missed last week’s edition on the atmosphere at the U.S. Open, you can find it here.

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