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(Nov. 7, 2013) – On August 27, 2010, the Briar Woods High School Falcons’ football season was off to a less than glorious start. Playing on the road, the team lost its returning all-district running back to a broken leg on the game’s first offensive play. Later, their second string running back went down with a foot injury. Mired in a defensive slugfest, the Falcons watched Millbrook overcome an early deficit to claim a late 8-7 lead in the fourth quarter. With 2:37 seconds left on the clock and the ball on their own 9, the Falcons hopes for victory fell largely on the skinny arms of a 5-foot=10, 135-pound freshmen quarterback playing his first varsity game.
And in those final minutes on a dimly lit field in Winchester, Virginia, that lanky freshmen began to set the course for the rise of a football powerhouse, the success of which is undeniably intertwined with his own career. Richard “Trace” McSorley III completed three big passes—including a huge fourth down conversion to keep the game alive—to setup the Falcons chip-shot, game winning field goal. Those passes and that win were just the start for the Falcon program and the kid everyone knows as Trace, as they began an unparalleled run of three straight state championships, one they hope to continue in Friday night’s regular season finale against Leesburg power Tuscarora and the ensuing playoffs.
While Trace’s rise from freshmen wunderkind to three-time state champion may have been shocking to the outside world, his success was less of a surprise to those who knew the even-keeled and athletic kid from his days in the Ashburn Youth Football League. Coached by longtime family friend Dan Shain and his father Rick, Trace teamed with future high school teammates and opponents such as Matt Rolin, Dorian Jenkins, Mike Barta, and Caleb Lindsay—to name a few—and helped lead the Titans to several dominating seasons and championships.
“His success in high school isn’t a surprise to those of us who knew Trace growing up,” said Scott Rolin, a senior leader on the Falcons team during the quarterback’s freshmen season and the older brother of Matt.
But even in those early days Trace—a nickname the family settled on based in part on the success of Trace Armstrong of the Miami Dolphins—wasn’t the clear shoe in for duties at quarterback. In fact, it took perhaps an ill-timed vacation by a teammate to give Trace his first shot as a signal caller. Good friend and then starting quarterback for the Titans Blake Ratliff—now a baseball player at Briar Woods—missed the first two weeks of practice during their fifth grade year, opening the door for Trace’s first snaps under center.
Trace’s initial success came primarily as a runner, a trait he continues to utilize to this day as a true dual-threat offensive weapon. The offenses run by his youth teams, like most, were not pass heavy, so it wasn’t until he entered the Briar Woods program as an eighth grader that Trace truly began honing his skills as a passer. Trace showed flashes with his arm during seven-on-seven drills and scrimmages, and won the duties as the freshmen team’s starting quarterback. That success carried into the next offseason, where the Falcon coaches recognized his potential and decided to tab him as the team’s starting quarterback.
Perhaps more than anything, Trace’s story is testament to the strength and depth of the football community in and around Ashburn. For him and many others, football is not just a fall sport. It’s a year round affair filled with speed and strength training, conditioning, and specialized position drills and coaching. The McSorley’s credit a host of friends and coaches for helping Trace throughout a career that has seen him amass nearly 8500 yards passing with 93 touchdowns to just 29 interceptions, while rushing for over 1700 yards and 35 scores, all the while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in the classroom.
Trace has put in countless hours with folks such as Adam Wooten of Pure Speed, LLC, former Washington Redskins and trainers Eddie Mason and James Thrash, and quarterback coach Drew Dudzik, to name just a few. The strength of that support is also found in the teammates and even crosstown rivals developed through years of playing locally. Growing up with teammates and families such as the Rolins, Alex Carter, Cam Serigne, and a host of others have helped instill in Trace the quiet confidence and cool demeanor that has come to epitomize his career.
“We live in a pretty cool area if you’re a football guy, said father Rick McSorley, who along with mother Andrea credit many in the community for Trace’s success, “We’re around Redskins all the time, Trace has known guys like Mason, Thrash, Shawn Springs, Jeremiah Trotter and Sean Taylor. So you’re around that atmosphere [of success], it’s sort of like, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do,’ and any moment he faces doesn’t seem too big.”
While he’s not a grizzled 20-year NFL veteran (at least not yet), Trace has certainly had his share of big moments already. In addition to the comeback over Millbrook, during his freshmen year alone Trace lead the Falcons past crosstown rivals and then defending two time state champs Broad once in the regular season and again in the playoffs to help the team win its first ever state title. He started every game during the Falcons recent 32-game winning streak that spanned three seasons. After that streak was snapped earlier this season at North Stafford, Trace responded with perhaps his best game as a Falcon, passing for 400 yards while adding 136 on the ground in a big win over Woodgrove. These achievements highlight not just the quarterback’s abilities as an athlete, but those of a leader and captain of his Falcon team.
“He’s a great leader, a great captain,” said current teammate and wide receiver Melvin Holland, Jr. “When things need to get done, he’s not afraid to lay the law down. He knows how to tell people directly ‘You need to do this, stop playing around, we need to focus.’ He knows how to bring everybody together.”
These traits of leadership and hard work are certainly not lost on Briar Woods head coach Charlie Pierce, who has been on the sidelines for every step of Trace’s high school career, and watched as the skinny quarterback blossomed into the player that will don the black and gold for the Vanderbilt University football team next year.
“Trace is everything you’re looking for in a quarterback. He’s a leader on the field and off the field. He’s a leader in the weight room and in conditioning. He does things in the community. If you look in the dictionary for a perfect quarterback, you’ll see a picture of Trace McSorley. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been part of that ride, and I’m going to continue to ride those coattails as long as I can.”
The Falcon faithful certainly hope those coattails will carry the Falcons deep into the playoffs in this final season of Trace’s career. Perhaps fittingly it will be this Friday during senior night that the Falcons will face one of their toughest challenges of the season, as the Tuscarora Huskies (8-1) come to town for a game with the district title and playoff implications on the line. Trace and the Falcons view this challenge like many others they have faced, a situation where success must be earned, a mantra that motivates him to this day.
“I always remember a quote from Eddie Mason… Greatness is earned not given. Something about the way he said that just made me feel like I want to be great, and achieving greatness is something I want to do. There are always people who will say ‘You’re too short to be a quarterback, you don’t have the arm strength, or you’re not big enough,’ and hearing those little things just adds motivation,” said McSorley.
Even if this final chapter in Trace’s career does not end with another state championship, he’s left an indelible mark on the Briar Woods football program. In four years the program has risen from relative unknown to one of the best high school programs in Virginia. While a host of great players, coaches, faculty, families, and volunteers helped the team capture 50 wins to just 4 losses during that span, there has been one just one starting quarterback, supported by coaches and a community that initially put their trust in him nearly four years ago.
“It’s definitely an honor [to play for Briar Woods],” said Trace, “I don’t think there’s anyone else other than Coach Pierce that could have done the job that he’s done starting the program and building it up the right way. There’s no one else I would have rather had as my coach. It’s probably something you take for granted, but I know looking back in 25 or 30 years, I know I’ve been blessed to go to Briar Woods.”
“He’s going to go down as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of Virginia high school football,” said Rolin, summarizing the legacy Trace will leave behind not just at Briar Woods, but on all of Virginia high school football, “He’s everything you’d want in a quarterback, a winner, playmaker, and athlete. He’s also humble, from a great family, and an all-around great kid.”