Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories as Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse travel the country to meet the incoming class of freshmen. Here’s a look at 3-star receiver Tyrone Tracy.
INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa’s past slot receivers have played that position with purpose but without the dedicated responsibilities. Incoming freshman receiver Tyrone Tracy can change that.
A decade earlier, Iowa’s slot receiver rarely was more than an extra wideout on a passing down. In recent years, Matt VandeBerg performed adequately in the slot but then suffered a broken foot. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Riley McCarron could operate inside but played more on the perimeter.
That all changes with Indianapolis’ Tracy, who boasts the proper combination of size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds), speed (4.52-second laser time in the 40-yard dash), strength (300-pound power lift), quickness (ask somebody) and acceleration (watch the tape) to usher the Iowa passing game into a new era. Tracy’s route tree is wide open, and his versatility is uncommon.
“In the case with Tyrone Tracy, he was a guy that we just don’t have, this dynamic …” Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said as his voice trailed off. “He saw an opportunity in our offensive coaches.”
Playing in the slot poses different challenges from the outside. There are more defenders in tighter spaces and more possible routes from the slot. Quick movements are essential. In today’s football, slot receivers can double almost as running backs on jet sweeps.
Former West Virginia star Tavon Austin was the preeminent slot receiver in college football in 2011-12. Among the NFL’s best slot receivers in recent years include Jarvis Landry, Danny Amendola and Wes Welker. Tracy studies them and incorporates their styles into his repertoire.
“When I saw Tavon Austin and how he played in college, that’s how I wanted to play in high school,” Tracy said. “I knew if I played like him when he was in college, that would translate to doing better things than other people are doing. So that’s when I wanted to try to play like him.
“Now I just look at slot receivers, anybody good like Odell [Beckham Jr.], Tavon Austin, DeSean Jackson, Taylor Gabriel, I look at all of them and try to take all of their pieces and put it in my game. That’s how you get Tyrone Tracy.”
High school superstar
In his four years at Decatur Central High School, Tracy did everything possible to turn it into his personal showcase. He earned varsity letters each year in football, track and basketball.
Tracy set himself apart with his football skills. He played multiple positions during his career, including running back, receiver, defensive back and kick returner. As a freshman, Tracy rushed for 9 touchdowns. He also made a key fourth-down catch in the snow on a game-winning drive in a playoff game. His role expanded each year until he became Indiana’s most complete dual-threat player last fall.
Tracy was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year after rushing for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns and catching 54 passes for 1,132 yards and 17 scores. Decatur Central designed its offense around Tracy. He lined up everywhere to force the defense to commit to him.
“It was what different scenarios could we put Tyrone in to make our team better,” Tracy said. “Not just for me, but to make the team better. So it was like, ‘All right, will the defense switch because he’s at wide receiver? Would they switch because he’s in the backfield?”
Tracy’s individual records are staggering. Tracy holds Decatur Central marks for career touchdowns (72), career receiving touchdowns (33), career receiving yards (2,643) and career rushing yards per attempt (8.7). He totaled 3,525 rushing yards in four seasons.
“We’ve had a lot of good players here, but he always is working on his craft and trying to make himself the best all-around football player he can be,” Decatur Central coach Kyle Enright said. “I think that’s what led him to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving, because he would consider himself an athlete. He’s not a running back, he’s not a receiver, he can play anywhere. He’s a playmaker.”
That level of play provides confidence, and Tracy carries a swagger. He was the best offensive player on the field in nearly every game — and he knew it.
“I try to be very electric,” Tracy said. “I try to bring some sass to the field. I try to play after some very high-profile guys in the NFL and [at] the college level. Saquon Barkley, I look at his moves. ‘He did that, let me see if I can do that and replicate his game.’ Odell Beckham, I try to play like him.
“I want to be that guy that everybody knows. ‘Everybody, all right, look out for that guy.’ That’s what I want to be.”
In the offseason, Tracy competed on the Indy Select 7-on-7 football team. He joined fellow future Hawkeyes D.J. Johnson and Julius Brents, both of whom played at Indianapolis high schools. Their workouts fostered both a respect and a competition among them that will continue throughout every practice at Iowa.
“Tyrone, he’s a playmaker,” Johnson said. “Definitely a baller. Me and him, we go at it all the time. We’re always competing and going 1-on-1. We’re definitely going to push each other once we get there.”
Football defines Tracy’s public image, but family represents the most important aspect of his life. He’s the second-oldest of four brothers with Charles Turner (21), Kenny Tracy (16) and Javon Tracy (14). Tyrone and Kenny played together last year in football and basketball. Kenny, who has Division I potential in both sports, looks to Tyrone for guidance and inspiration.
“He’s so good and all, it made me want to be up there with him and work harder and go training with him,” said Kenny, who plays point guard in basketball and splits time at receiver and linebacker in football. “It made me like football way more than I did. It created a better bond for us. We can spend more time together off the field, not at home and stuff.”
Road trip to Iowa! Fun times! pic.twitter.com/Nl28i4TPR0
— Laverna Tracy (@MrsLavernaTracy) April 22, 2018
With their parents, Laverna and Tyrone Tracy Sr., the family has a tight bond. With everyone’s busy sports schedules, Laverna sends group texts to organize family days. Sometimes it’s just for a meal. Other times it’s popcorn and a movie or a Sunday morning church service.
“You have to stop for a minute and make time for family and plan it,” Laverna said.
“My mom, she likes to revolve everything around God and church,” Kenny said. “She likes for our whole family to go to church. We take a lot of time off of church because we travel a lot on the weekends. So when we get a chance to go to church, she takes advantage of it. We go to church super early.”
Tracy is just as close to his extended family, which includes cousins Miles Tracy and one-time Iowa football commit Larry Tracy. Miles plays college basketball at Indiana-South Bend, while Larry remains uncommitted but interested in Iowa.
Family time is far from a chore for the Tracy family. Everyone embraces it.
“Every time we travel, we try to make it a whole family thing,” Tyrone said. “We try to do family events: bowling, skating. Us brothers, we go skating Sunday nights to stay connected, even though there’s an age difference. But we still try to do stuff to make it seem like we’re still there. We’re still close.”
With Kenny playing alongside Tyrone on Decatur Central’s varsity football team, it’s a memory neither will forget.
“Nothing can replace that, to play with your brother,” Tyrone said. “We already have a close bond off the field, so it made us even closer on the field.”
Coming to Iowa
Last weekend, Tracy stepped on Iowa’s campus as a student-athlete for the first time. He signed off on Twitter — a program requirement — and started his first week of summer workouts.
Tracy should become a high-impact performer within days of padded training camp this summer. He should see snaps in his first fall on campus. But his opportunity comes with responsibility, too. That was impressed upon him early by Bell and later by wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland.
“[Bell] was just saying, ‘You have a chance to start at Iowa, but we’re not going to give it to you,’ ” Tracy said. “‘We’re just saying that the position you play at Iowa, we need somebody like you — a playmaker — to come in and make a difference.’ I have that chance. It’s up to me to go up and grab it.”
“Tyrone, he’s got that hunger when it comes to sports,” Laverna said. “He studies plays. He wants to learn. He wants to do the mental part of it. He trains on his own. If it’s raining out there and he said it’s a day he’s going to train, he’d be out there all by himself to train. He’s got a great opportunity to play.”
With a 3.5 grade point average, status as a three-year captain and an impeccable character assessment from Coach Enright, Tracy held a leadership position at Decatur Central. He led by example in the weight room, practice and outside of the athletic arena.
“Some guys have this best-in-the-school mentality,” Enright said, “where once they’ve reached that point, they kind of flat line. [Tracy has] never wanted to be just the best in the school. He’s had higher goals than that to be on a national level and compete because of his God-given ability and what his parents have instilled in him. He’s been able to transcend that and kind of take it to the next level.”
So that’s where Tracy’s high school story ends and his first college chapter begins. Iowa needs a slot receiver to loosen the perimeter receivers, tight ends and running game. Tracy’s skill set fills that void. It’s now up to him to earn that spot, excel and, over time, dominate.
“My motto is, ‘Speed kills,’ and it does,” Tracy said. “You can’t tackle what you can’t touch.
“It’s going to be a good time next year in Iowa.”