Ernie Tracy, a Red Raider through and through.
TORRINGTON: Someday when you look back at the football career of one Ernie Tracy, you won’t be able to help yourself when you smile and think, man that guy loved to play football.
He’s been alive nearly 18-years (he turns 18 in early December, Happy Birthday in advance) and has spent 12 of those years strapping on shoulder pads and hitting someone.
“That’s the best thing about football,” Tracy said two days before playing his last game against rival Watertown on Thursday as a member of the THS football team. “You get to hit things.”
Those ‘things’ are been players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball; Tracy is a two-way player who rarely takes a play off.
Tracy and the Raiders travel on Thanksgiving to take on the Indians in his final game with that prized Raider uniform on.
His uniform and the maroon and white colors on it mean something to a kid like Ernie Tracy, it’s about the history and the right to wear something that has been worn by countless other great THS athletes over the years.
“Coach (Tony) Turina (former boys’ basketball leader) came in this summer and talked to us about the history,” Tracy said. “To me it’s a privilege to be able to put this uniform on. I understand we are representing our school when I put this on.”
With the challenges the Raiders football team has had to overcome, both on and off the field this past year, Tracy was the perfect young man to help guide the program back in a positive way.
“Ernie has met all my expectations this year,” first year head coach Gaitan Rodriguez said. “He has been a leader on and off the field. He’s one of those kids who I’m going to miss dearly and remember in the future as he goes on to do great things.”
He’s the center on offense this year and a defensive tackle when his team needs a stop.
He lives for the chance to make a difference where it counts; on the line. In the mud, the front line, the battle zone.
Call it what you may but everybody knows that games and championships are won and lost in the trenches.
After spending his early years in Pop Warner, Tracy went out for football during his freshman year with low expectations.
“When I first tried out, I was hoping to maybe see a little time on the junior varsity,” Tracy said. “By half way through the summer sessions, the coaches were giving me some playing time with the varsity.”
His teacher was one of the best ever to wear a uniform over the last 10-years, Dean Tsopanipes a classic two-way player for the Raiders in his day.
“I used to go up against Dean in practice every day,” Tracy said. “He was tough but it made me a better player.”
It was during that freshman year, a 7-3 season for the Raiders that Tracy started to become one of the line leaders, opening holes for All-World running back Brendan Lytton.
The sweep left was Lytton’s signature run and it was Tracy and the boys on the offensive line that paved the way for three remarkable season that saw the Raiders fall just short of making the playoffs but they posted a 20-10 record over that time span.
One of his highlight moments came during his sophomore year when Tracy spent some time as starting fullback, opening holes for Lytton.
“I remember one game in particular that I think I opened two huge holes for Brendan and he scored touchdowns on the plays,” Tracy said. “Brendan always had a solid offensive line while he was here.”
Almost a year ago, after a 6-4 season, the last under head coach Dan Dunaj, most of the starting offensive and some defensive players graduated, leaving Tracy as the senior member and leader on both lines.
Add to that the off field issues that took place over the winter and it set up a tough 2013 season that presented Tracy with challenges on two fronts.
How to repair a football program that was unfairly associated with unfortunate incidents committed by students who were no longer even members of the football team (season ended in November, incidents occurred in February) and how to teach a young team how to win.
Tracy was built perfectly for the first and it had nothing to do with his size or weight, it had everything to do with his character.
“We knew all eyes were going to be on us,” Tracy said. “We had to fight the negative attention we were getting by doing the right thing on and off the field.”
His coach always knew he could count on his two-way lineman.
“Ernie leads by example,” Rodriguez said. “He’s not a rah-rah kind of player but let’s his play on the field do the talking.”
The Raiders struggled mightily this year, losing their first seven in a row but Tracy stays motivated by looking to the future.
“It was frustrating this year for sure,” Tracy said. “But I look at the 20 sophomores we have on the team and have faith they are going to take this program back to the seven or more wins kind of seasons.”
While he may be a lineman, Tracy has used his head for other things aside from butting heads with the guy on the other side of the ball.
He will be attending West Virginia after graduation next September and looks to get himself a government job.
Hey, with all the gridlock we see in government, wouldn’t it be nice to see a guy who knows how to clear a hole, get to work on the big issues of the day?
He’s got one more high school football game to play, one more score to settle and this is one Raider who understands the history of ‘The Helmet Bowl’ and isn’t going to leave anything on the turf field in Watertown on Thursday.
Cliché or no, throw out the records on this day is always the norm.
“We could be 9-0 and they’re 0-9,” Tracy said. “When we get together on Thanksgiving, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Count on Tracy to understand what this game means……
He gets to hit somebody for another 32 minutes….