Bowl game MVP honors in the highest reaches of college football are usually reserved for quarterbacks, running backs and the occasional wide receiver.
A tight end winning one is much more rare, but that’s exactly where former Fork Union postgraduate football standout Caden Prieskorn found himself in the aftermath of the Peach Bowl – the most valuable player in a New Year’s Six Bowl after a 10-catch, 136-yard, two-touchdown performance for Ole Miss in a 38-25 win over Penn State.
“It’s a dream come true – it’s not easy to win 11 games in college football,” Prieskorn told ESPN shortly after the Rebels beat Penn State. “To come in here and win a New Year’s Six Bowl is amazing.”
If you want to know how much the college football experience has changed drastically in the last few years, Caden Prieskorn’s journey is a good place to start. Prieskorn played high school football in a run-heavy offense at Orchard Lake-St. Mary’s in Michigan, through the 6-foot-6 Prieskorn threw for 200 yards and a game-winning touchdown in a state championship victory. After graduation, he went to Fork Union for his postgraduate year and was slated to play both quarterback and safety for the Blue Devils’ postgraduate team.
“We were like let’s be a swing player and play some other positions and then he got hurt,” said John Shuman, Fork Union’s Major Gifts Officer and former Fork Union postgraduate football coach. “After he came back, one day during practice we were short on players and we threw him at tight end and he caught everything. He had a pretty good year with us, everything was solid.”
Prieskorn was an under-the-radar recruit prior to coming to Fork Union and played well early before that injury cut short his postgraduate season. With an assist from FUMA teammate Harold Nash, Jr. who was walking on at Memphis, Prieskorn caught the eye of the coaching staff for former Memphis coach Mike Norvell – now the head coach at Florida State. Fork Union has a lot of players who take that kind of leap of faith each year for postgraduate football, coming from a long way aways to take a shot.
“The four months is about getting your mind caught up with your talent,” Shuman said. “Once you get homesickness out of you and get some mental toughness, the sky’s the limit. It’s about playing with their mind, heart and talent and getting that going. We love kids that are from far away places.”
He headed to Memphis as a walk-on with a planned shift to tight end. After a redshirt year, he first saw the field under an entirely new coaching staff in 2020, appearing in four games. The next year he made more strides and appeared in all 12 games for the Tigers as a redshirt sophomore. But his breakout season came as a redshirt junior in 2022 when he was a semifinalist for the John Mackey award – an honor for the nation’s top tight end – catching 48 balls for 602 yards and seven touchdowns. He was also a nominee for the Burlsworth trophy, awarded to the nation’s top player that started his career as a walk-on.
“We were impressed when he hit the scene last year at Memphis, he started coming on there,” Shuman said. “I went to the AFCA convention (American Football Coaches Association) and I saw the Memphis coach and I was like, wow, he’s really coming on and he was like ‘well, Caden just hit the portal.”
As is the case with many players in today’s college football world, Prieskorn entered the transfer portal after that season, his transformation from walk-on to highly-coveted star nearly complete as he was tagged as a four-star tight end in the portal.
He eventually delivered on that in Lane Kiffin’s high-powered offense at Ole Miss, but he made a strong impression well before he caught a football for Ole Miss.
“Prieskorn has fit in really well. Players put him on the leadership council committee already after not being here very long says a lot,” Kiffin told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal during the preseason. “ … He’s extremely mature. And so, we’re excited about him.”
That maturity is no surprise, Prieskorn is married to Cali Prieskorn and has a two-year old son Mac and is one of the older players on the Ole Miss roster.
It took some time to acclimate to the Southeastern Conference. He had had to shake off an early injury and process the death of his father in October, an emotionally challenging journey for Prieskorn who had witnessed his father battle colon cancer for two years prior to his passing.
“He’s just loving that I can come out here and do what I do,” Prieskorn said on ESPN of his father’s passing after the Peach Bowl win.
In late October, he had a pair of catches for 63 yards against Alabama to get into the offensive mix for the Rebels. The rest of year, his role continued to expand in the Rebels’ offense, culminating in the 10-catch, 136-yard explosion against Penn State as he took advantage of a big moment on a big stage.
Prieskorn has already announced his plan to return to Ole Miss next year, even though he created some NFL buzz with that Peach Bowl performance. That’s no surprise, as he has continually bet on himself from the moment he took the postgraduate year at FUMA to walking on at Memphis and then to diving into the SEC pool through the portal.
“Enjoy football,” Prieskorn told RebelGrove.com. “Enjoy everything that comes with it. None of this will last forever and you have to enjoy it while it’s here. You never know what will happen tomorrow.”
Prieskorn has been tested, time and time again, at FUMA, at Memphis, at Ole Miss and personally. He’s stronger for it, and it shows each and every time Prieskorn steps on the field.
Gear Up for Greatness profiles are sponsored by Fork Union Military Academy