“The day had started out so exciting. Things were so hyped and emotional and then it became so very painful. Seeing that hit me so hard. It felt like I’d been in a train wreck.”
Finally her son — who it turned out had torn the patella tendon in his right knee — was taken off the field on a motorized cart.
“My husband and my son and daughter and I all went up to the locker room and when we saw Tracy he was in tears. We all were.”
The injury was serious and often — 50 percent of the time, one OSU coach said — it is career-ending.
• Two years before that — in July 2014 — Sprinkle’s OSU career nearly had been derailed, as well. After a bar brawl at The Grown & Sexy Lounge in Lorain, he was arrested and charged with rioting/failure to disperse and then possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia after officers found two small bags of cocaine stuffed down in a seat of the patrol car Sprinkle had been in.
Ohio State, which had redshirted him as a freshman the year before, promptly suspended him from the team. A day later he was dismissed from the program until a further review of his status was warranted.
Sprinkle’s lawyer made a valid case that the drugs were not his client’s and within a month the drug charges were dropped and Tracy was back on the team. Getting back in the coaches’ good graces, though, took a lot longer.
• And two years before the Lorain incident — in December 2012 — Tracy’s older brother, 22–year-old Jamelro Hicks, was pulled from his minivan, beaten, shot and killed in an altercation with another man on W. 44th Street and Apple Avenue in Cleveland.
So after all these troubling times, it is understandable why Tracie let out some schoolgirl squeals of joy and several “God is good!’ exhortations last week when OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson called her about her son and said:
“So far (your son) Tracy has been through a lot of tests and he’s got a great story to tell. And this afternoon — about five minutes ago — his testimony became real. I’m a proud coach to call you and let you know your son has been selected one of the captains of the 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes.”
The call — which Johnson made on speakerphone with Tracy at his side — was videotaped by OSU and captures Sprinkle’s mom melting with delight:
“Hi Babe! … Oh I’m so proud of you, Honey….God is wonderful! He has given you a testimony. Keep sharing it.”
All her beaming son could say was “I love you.”
OSU posted the exchange on its Twitter account and the video became an instant hit.
“My mom was pretty excited and that video kind of blew up everywhere,” Sprinkle said with a grin Monday as he sat outside the Bucks’ dressing room, his long braids flowing out from beneath a black ball cap, a tiger tattoo covering the inside of his left forearm and his blue shorts revealing the fresh, worm-like scar on his right knee.
That evening, Tracie had to laugh as well: “He’s kept me updated and told me that I’m famous now. I guess my big mouth has finally gone viral!
“I can’t describe what came over me then, except that I had tears as well as screams all at the same time. As a parent, as a mom, you always have that hope for your child. And with him, it’s no secret that he has had a long journey. I’m just thankful that he did make it.”
Sprinkle agreed: “This just shows that faith and hard work can pay off. I’m a strong guy who’s gone through a lot and now has a chance to show off my blessings on the field.”
‘Attacked’ his rehab
He admitted he initially thought he had blown his career at OSU following the 2014 incident.
Although his parents were disappointed, his mom said she didn’t believe the drug allegation: “I know my son and knew the truth would come out.
“The best thing was that it was a learning experience for him if nothing else. He learned to be careful about his surroundings and the situation he puts himself in and not to get caught up in that kind of negativity. It’s a heck of a way to learn it, but he did.”
Tracy said his dad helped him: “He’s kind of the discipline in our family, but he didn’t just badger me. He made sure I got through it and that my head was on straight.”
Once back on the team, he appeared in just three games as a redshirt freshman in 2014, but then played in all 13 the following year.
After the injury in 2016, he committed himself to his return.
“He rehabbed with a vengeance, he just attacked it,” his mom said. “He never gave up and the coaches and the trainers and staff and his teammates, they all helped him. They were phenomenal. They allowed him to stay with the team and travel with them and it encouraged him.”
OSU coaches have said the team got as much out of it as Sprinkle did. He inspired his older teammates and did all he could to mentor the younger ones.
Off the field he was just as committed and graduated this past spring with a finance degree.
Coming into Thursday’s night season opener at Indiana — where he’ll start at nose tackle with Wayne High School graduate Robert Landers backing him up — he is one of nine players chosen to be a team captain this season.
He said being a captain is “a real honor” for him and he will draw on the examples set by previous Buckeye captains he’s known, especially Michel Bennett, the defensive lineman who prepped at Centerville High and now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Curtis Grant, now a linebacker with the New York Giants.
“I want to lead by example like they did,” Sprinkle said. “I want guys to know they can lean on me no matter what and that I can help them get through the hard times because I’ve been there. I’ve been through a lot in my life. I know what tough times are.”
And now, finally, he knows good times, as well.