Since his early days of youth league football, Trace McSorley has eaten the same meal the morning of his games: flatbread, fried eggs, cheese and bacon. The “football leg,” as his mother (and personal chef) calls it, is just one part of a calculated and well-rehearsed routine for the Briar Woods senior quarterback.
On Thursday, as he has done every Thursday of every playoff week during a four-year high school career full of them, McSorley sat down with his teammates and their families to devour a pasta dinner in the Briar Woods cafeteria. And when he takes the field in the Virginia 5A state championship game Saturday in Charlottesville, he’ll wear the same black Nike glove that keeps his left hand warm and sport the same bleached blonde mohawk that the Falcons have donned in each of the last four Novembers and Decembers.
“He’s a kid who likes a schedule,” McSorley’s mother, Andrea, said. “He likes everything to be the same.”
McSorley’s schedule is deeply ingrained after the Falcons marched to three straight Virginia AA Division 4 championships in his first three years as the team’s starter under center. But the road to a rare fourth straight state title has been anything but routine.
A move up to Class 5A, injuries, inconsistent play and a pair of narrow playoff escapes over the last two weeks are only some of the obstacles this Falcons team has faced. On Saturday at the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium, McSorley and the No. 3 Falcons will face their highest hurdle yet — defending Virginia AAA Division 5 state champion L.C. Bird (14-0).
The four-year starting quarterback is one win away from guiding the Falcons to a fourth state title in as many years — a feat accomplished by only two teams in Virginia High School League history — Hampton (1995-98) and Phoebus (2008-11), and neither was led by a four-year starting quarterback.
Former NFL wide receiver Ronald Curry quarterbacked Hampton from 1995-97, and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd led Phoebus to titles in 2008 and 2009. In a record-breaking career at Briar Woods, McSorley has the opportunity for another first.
“It would mean everything to win this,” said McSorley, who is 55-4 at Briar Woods. “It’s been some really great quarterbacks to come out of the state of Virginia: Michael Vick, Sean Glennon, Mike Glennon, Marcus Vick, E.J. Manuel and Tajh Boyd.
“I feel like getting that fourth ring would put me in a class with them or maybe even above them, just because it’s something special that everyone doesn’t get the chance to do.”
As a freshman, McSorley was given the chance to quarterback a Falcons team built on a power run game. But when the team’s starting running back broke his leg in Week 1, McSorley was forced to shoulder more of the load. He leaned heavily on the experienced players around him while displaying a calm demeanor that inspired his teammates. After a 2-2 start to the season, the Falcons won 11 straight to end the season, including a 41-21 rout of Harrisonburg for the school’s first state title.
After a Week 1 loss to Broad Run in 2011, the Falcons won 14 in a row and their second straight championship. Last season, Briar Woods’s final one in Class AA Division 4, McSorley and company went unbeaten, capping their season with a 52-0 drubbing of Heritage-Lynchburg in the state final.
“From the first snap, he took control, he was confident and knew what he was doing,” said Wake Forest freshman H-back Cam Serigne, who played alongside McSorley on all three title teams . “Everyone expected a freshman to come in nervous, but he came in strong and ready to go.”
With each season, McSorley’s offensive responsibilities increased, and over the last two years, he’s doubled as the team's starting safety. But his senior year has been no swan song.
It started six days into camp when veteran senior lineman Nick Merletti suffered a season-ending tear of his anterior cruciate ligament. In Week 4, the Falcons saw their 32-game winning streak snapped by North Stafford, and the last two weeks have tested their mettle.
A helmet-to-hip hit in the region semifinal against Broad Run forced McSorley out of the game briefly, but with his team trailing by three points and the season on the line in the second overtime, offensive coordinator Jared Develli called a quarterback sneak. McSorley plowed through the pile for the decisive score.
In Last Saturday’s 5A North region final, a rematch against North Stafford, McSorley threw a career-high four interceptions and lost two fumbles. After his fourth interception early in the final period, he came to the sideline fuming.
There Develli, a former Park View standout and Virginia Tech kicker who assumed his role in McSorley’s freshman season, delivered a simple message.
“Dude, win or lose you’re getting the ball. We rode you for four years, and we’re going to ride you until the end.
“If anyone is going to lose the game, it’s going to be you. But we’re not going to lose — we’re going to drive the ball down the field and score a touchdown.”
As he has done countless times over the last four seasons, McSorley delivered, and the defense stuffed the Wolverines’ last-second two-point conversion attempt to seal a 27-25 win.
“As a football player, he’s always been that guy, and had that kind of swagger about him,” Develli said. “Sometimes when he was a freshman or sophomore, he made a mistake and there wasn’t that confidence. But you saw he made a bunch of mistakes Saturday, and he still slung the ball down the field.”
That confidence helped McSorley land an offer from Vanderbilt, where he will continue to develop his game next fall.
For now, McSorley’s focus is singular.
On Saturday, he will lead Briar Woods down Route 29 for the final game of his high school career. McSorley will eat his “football leg” before the morning bus ride down to Charlottesville, and just as he has done each of the last three years, he will ride in silence.
“I tried listening to music once as a freshman on the way to Martinsburg in West Virginia,” McSorley said. “We didn’t fare so well.
“I’ll just be sleeping on the bus.”