Was Cam Newton paying attention?
If he was, he would have seen in Walled Lake Western’s Johnny Tracy another quarterback who came up short in the biggest game of his life. But unlike the Carolina Panthers’ signal-caller who sat and sulked following the Super Bowl, Tracy owned up to his actions, and handled the outcome with responsibility and class.
In the Warriors’ 18-0 loss to Detroit King in Friday’s Division 2 final at Ford Field, the Princeton-bound Tracy completed 8 of 18 passes but threw three interceptions, one of which was tipped and returned 61 yards for a TD by Jesse Scarber.
“You’ve got to give it to King, they’re a physical and athletic team,” Tracy said. “They bring a lot of pressure up front. There’s a lot of athletes in their defensive backfield, so you know they were able to get some pressure and forced us to throw into some pretty tight windows and obviously caused some problems.”
Still, Tracy was grateful just to have the opportunity. After suffering through a 2-7 season last year at Birmingham Brother Rice, he returned to his hometown school after the first semester last winter and his teammates immediately took him in, not viewing him as a threat.
Tracy’s presence meant that Michigan State commit Cody White, who was going to be the quarterback, could go back to split end and slotback, where he excelled last season.
“After an upsetting junior year, I came to Walled Lake Western which had a lot of great things going. I knew we had a great team and a lot of potential to go a long way,” Tracy said. “Looking back (to the first day of practice), I wasn’t even thinking about Ford Field, we were just taking it one week at a time.”
That’s the approach that Tracy was quickly forced to take.
“In the preseason scrimmage I messed up my shoulder,” he said. “That hurt a little bit, but I was able to come back so it wasn’t bad. I re-aggravated it a couple of times during the season, making me question whether I should keep going, but thankfully I was able to push through it. My teammates had my back the entire time.”
White filled in admirably in Tracy’s absence, and even took several snaps Friday — meeting a similar degree of success, as Jae’Veyon Morton returned one of White’s pass attempts for another pick-six.
King is the only team to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the state finals — the Crusaders also did it in 2007 against Midland, when they became the first PSL team to win a state crown.
“I honestly feel we never faced a defense as athletic as King all year,” Tracy said. “All year we’ve been able to get our athletes in space, have them make a lot of plays, but King was just as athletic as us and stayed on top of our receivers, got pressure on me, forced me to make some bad throws, and I just ended up on the short end.”
It was definitely a roller-coaster season for Tracy, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I’m always going to be grateful for Walled Lake Western school and the community,” he said. “I made some friends that I know I’m going to have for life. This season was a dream come true. I’m thankful for the experience we had. It’s very humbling to be able to play here for a championship because it validates everything we did this season.”