Tracy Fells has seen the limelight many times during his four years on Alexandria's championship T.C. Williams High School football team. But never has it appeared so harsh.
On Friday afternoon, Alexandria police arrested the 18-year-old Fells and charged him with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Police said they seized $4,000 worth of crack, a cocaine derivative, from his car.
Since then, his face has appeared on local news pages and television programs. People he considered his friends have slighted his character. And, many seem to be pointing to him as evidence that the white stereotype of black athletes with fancy cars -- and drug habits -- is true, Fells said in an interview yesterday at his home.
"This is something they've expected all the time," said Fells, an All-Met and All-State defensive tackle who led his team to an undefeated season last fall. He said he is not guilty of the charges.
As Fells sees it, the stereotype strengthened after Michael Walker, his mother's boyfriend and a man he holds as close as a father, bought him an $11,000 1986 Nissan Maxima. "They're not used to seeing a black student in the projects with a nice car," he said.
Fells said he is regularly stopped by police cruising his Lynhaven neighborhood for no apparent reason. The area, in north Alexandria near Rte. 1, is one of the city's known drug markets. Police undercover units, known as the "jump-out boys," routinely patrol the area.
The police "are trying to use me as an example, but they're using me in the wrong way," said Fells, cocaptain of the school's nationally ranked football team.
Fells was released from jail on bond at 11 p.m. Friday and will appear in court tomorrow.
As Fells sat in the Alexandria jail Friday night, many of his fans and teammates were giving their best in the Virginia AAA Northern District basketball championship against Lake Braddock High School. Alexandria lost 100-82, in a game that had both bleachers in a loud frenzy.
The news of his arrest had hit the stands. Some friends were incredulous and said that the only explanation was that their friend had been set up.
"It took a lot out of me before the game," said James Ward, a guard on the T.C. Williams basketball team.
"We're going to welcome him back no matter what he did," said senior Michael Smith, who said he has known Fells since elementary school.
"If ever you needed somebody to talk to, Tracy was the guy," Smith said. " . . . He used to make us go to class. He'd say, 'What are you doing in the hallway?' He'd catch us and make us go back to class . . . . He'd say, 'Don't make a bad name for our school.' "
Rick Delaney, also 17, said Fells "helped us a lot in life, growing up."
Fells said he has played football for as long as he can remember, if not at the school stadium, then in the grass field across from his home. Fells said of his athletic skills, "I was average until I worked at it."
Football coach Glenn Furman said that in past years, Fells had been suspended from school for minor incidents unrelated to drugs and had not been suspended this year. He said Fells' grades were not good enough to get him into major colleges but that he was being recruited by several small schools.
"I don't even want to think about his career being down the drain," Walker said. "He's 18 years old. He has his whole life to live."
In any case, Fells said he thinks it is unfair that he be convicted before being tried.
"They kicked me hard in the news, man, they made me look real bad," he said. " . . . It's too much publicity over nothing. That's what's aching my heart. Little kids in the city look up to me, and now it's gone."