The defensive end mourned the death of his brother, Jamelro Hicks, last December, was offered a football scholarship by Ohio State a few months later and then put together a stellar senior-season performance for the Pioneers, who let a postseason berth slip through their fingers with a Week 10 loss to Mayfield.
The ride hit another high Thursday night when Sprinkle was named the winner of the 2012 Lorain County Golden Helmet Award, given annually to the top senior football player in the county.
The award has been presented since 1965, and Sprinkle is the seventh Elyria player to win it and first since running back P.J. Mahone in 2005.
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“I’m feeling pretty excited,” said Sprinkle. “This is a pretty exciting thing. I give all the honor to God. I’m so happy about it.
“It was one of my major goals, but I didn’t know I could actually reach it. I know P.J. Mahone was the last one from Elyria to win it, and he had a great season that year. I knew I’d have to have a great season to end up doing it.”
The Pioneers learned the good news Thursday morning, hours before their awards ceremony. Coach Kevin Fell was so excited he presented Sprinkle the award as soon as the program began.
“We’re thrilled,” Fell said. “When I was at Amherst, they hadn’t had one since (Brian) Cesear (in 2001), and I know I really wanted to get one of our guys that award because it’s such a huge deal in Lorain County. We had a few athletes come pretty close over there, and I know Dustin Stolarski was in consideration for the award last year.”
Fell said Sprinkle never really cared about individual accolades, but the Golden Helmet was one he had his eye on.
“Even after the season ended, Tracy would pop in my office and ask, ‘You hear anything about the Golden Helmet,’” Fell said. “I’d tell him no. But it’s pretty obvious to me how much winning this award means to him. It couldn’t have been given to a better kid who truly deserves it.”
Sprinkle also snaps a streak of Golden Helmet winners who captured the award as offensive players. He’s the first defensive player to win the award since Elyria Catholic’s Matt Wilhelm won it in 1999. Like Sprinkle, Wilhelm went to Ohio State. Sprinkle hopes the similarities continue, as Wilhelm went on to play in the NFL and win a Super Bowl championship with the Green Bay Packers.
“It’s a great thing and a big accomplishment, knowing that it’s mostly scat guys like running backs and quarterbacks that win it,” Sprinkle said. “Me being a defensive lineman and winning, I know it’s a big accomplishment.”
Fell said Sprinkle’s talent exceeds what he did on the football field.
“Tracy’s a good student, too,” he said. “He’s graduating from here early and attending Ohio State (for winter semester), giving up basketball here and all that stuff … it’s just a good deal for him.
“Tracy represents everything that’s good about high school athletics. The kid was an unassuming kid who worked really hard. Even after his junior year, I don’t think he really appreciated how good he really was. Then he continued to keep working hard, and that’s a great thing about him.
“He’s been a pleasure to have for two years. He never misses practice or loafs through practice. He’s always there to work. And he’s been such an inspiration to the other kids. He not only was a really good player, but he also worked really hard to get better. You can see how much our other kids were impressed by that and how that rubbed off on them.”
Sprinkle was simply dominant for the Pioneers this season. His 103 tackles were second only to linebacker Connor Kamczyc’s 161. He averaged 17 tackles a game, and his 19 sacks led Lorain County. He forced two fumbles, recovered one, had three pass defenses and scored a defensive touchdown this season.
“This whole journey has been amazing, with all the players and all the coaches and all the fans, everybody,” Sprinkle said. “It’s going to be a wonderful thing going to Ohio State and playing for them. I know going to Ohio State, I’ve got a lot of big things that I’ve got to do to represent this city. I think it should be a great opportunity for me.