Nearly 300 miles, five hours and several victories from their respective football programs separate the University of North Texas and Texas Tech University.
However, a former Red Raider student and Mean Green quarterback have come together to put Hardin-Simmons University back on the Division III football map.
Oh yes, and not to mention, they were pretty good high school teammates for Glen Rose.
After leaving Glen Rose in two different directions, Michael Tracy and Justin Feaster have reunited in Abilene as the catalysts for the No. 7 Hardin-Simmons Cowboys of the American Southwest Conference.
However, it wasn’t an easy road for the former Tiger teammates to stardom.
Tracy began his post-high school career at the Texas Tech while Feaster was wrapping up his final season at GRHS.
“I went to Texas Tech, mainly to be a student,” said Tracy. “I wanted to try to walk on to the football team (as a safety) just to see what it was like. But I got up to the school about a week before the walk-on deadline, and apparently it takes about a month to process the paperwork, so I missed the deadline.”
Tracy was forced to surrender his football career and shifted his focus entirely on school, and for the first two years, that is just the way things stayed.
But a phone call from an old friend was about to change his future.
Meanwhile, during Tracy’s second year in Lubbock, Feaster had accepted the opportunity to be a signal caller for the North Texas Mean Green.
“Coming out of high school there were several schools looking at me,” said Feaster. “Air Force Academy, Navy and Tarleton were on the list, but it was mostly between North Texas and Southern Methodist. I chose UNT because they were winning at the time, they had four straight conference titles, it was a bigger and better program at the time and it seemed like a better fit for me. Also, I had family go to UNT.”
Feaster was red-shirted when he arrived at UNT, but left the team following spring training of his rookie campaign.
“It was a different environment than I was used to, a lot of politics were involved,” explained Feaster. “The people weren’t there for the love of the game. I love playing football and having fun while I do it. I wasn’t having fun up there. I ended up quitting the team after spring drills, and Alan Wartes, the offensive coordinator at Hardin-Simmons, called me and I went down there. I fell in love with the university and the hospitality. I’m blessed to be there.”
After making the decision to trade the green and white of North Texas for the purple and gold of Hardin-Simmons, Feaster called his childhood friend and former Tiger teammate at Texas Tech.
“When I left UNT I thought about all of the guys from back home who had a lot of potential, and Michael was one of those guys. He was a little bit undersized and wasn’t really looked at out of high school, but he has the heart and loves playing football,” said Feaster.
“I wasn’t even thinking about playing football anywhere,” said Tracy of the day he received the call.. “I was happy where I was at, but when Justin called me and I went down to Hardin-Simmons with him, he gave me an opportunity too big to pass up.”
It was done.
The long time friends had gone down different paths and ended up together again, playing the game they love—football.
At the start of the 2007 season, both players were in heavy competition at their respective positions, and the depth at the quarterback slot proved to be a tough test for the incoming Feaster.
Obviously, Feaster wasn’t the only QB recruited by the Cowboys. A transfer from Stephen F. Austin and another from the University of Indiana stood between Feaster and the starting spot.
“All three of us were in competition throughout two-a-days,” said Feaster. “So all through camp and for the first game, we rotated every series. It was in the second game that I earned my spot. It was tough, because all three of us were competing, but I love competition so I wasn’t scared at all.”
When Feaster took over in the second game, he never looked back.
Feaster won the gig in the second contest when the Cowboys lost to Linfield, 52-42, to start 2007 with an 0-2 record.
The team would finish the season with a 6-4 mark, but both Feaster and Tracy had outstanding individual seasons.
Tracy would eventually play in 10 games, starting nine, and had a team-high 78 tackles as a sophomore.
“From an individual stand point, my sophomore season went really well,” said the starting safety. “But it was really a rebuilding year for the defense. The fact that I had a great year put me into a leadership position for this year’s team.”
Tracy’s offensive friend went on to complete on of the best seasons ever by a Hardin-Simmons QB.
Feaster completed the 2007 season with 2,946 yards through the air and 30 touchdowns, as well as four 300-yard passing games, including 495 against Mississippi College.
When the 2008 season started, both of the former Tigers were the official incumbents at their respective positions, as well as the cover boys for the Hardin-Simmons Media Guide. They didn’t disappoint.
Tracy finished second on the squad with 82 tackles, including seven-and-a-half behind the line of scrimmage. Tracy also managed five pass break-ups, two blocked kicks and three interceptions.
Feaster, on the other hand, went on to top his marks from the previous season, and be nominated for every possible major award in Division III. He finished the 2008 campaign going 229-331 for 3,023 yards, in addition to a 31-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Feaster is in consideration for All-American and All-Region acclaim, and has recently been named to the Academic All-ASC squad, along with Tracy.
Feaster was also named the ASC Offensive Player of the Year just before Hardin-Simmons’ playoff opening bout with rival, Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“It felt good,” said Feaster of his newest accolade. “I wished it hadn’t come out before our first playoff game, because I didn’t want any added pressure on anybody on the team. It was nice to finally have some accomplishments back on Hardin-Simmons' side.”
Following the announcement, the ASC Offensive POY led his team into the first round of the playoffs against MHB, but unfortunately, the Cowboys were sent home on the wrong end of a 38-35 score.
Tracy, Feaster and the rest of the Cowboys saw their 2008 campaign come to a close long before they wanted to, but good news was just around the corner.
Feaster was named one of the 10 finalists for the Gigliardi Trophy, the trophy given the to best, well-rounded player in Division III football. It's DIII's version of the Heisman Trophy.
“It’s a huge honor for myself and the team to be nominated for the Gagliardi Trophy,” said Feaster. “It’s been a great season, and it’s too bad it ended the way it did. But it’s just a tribute to how well our offense has performed as a whole and the team as a whole. It’s an honor for myself, but also for the team. Without our team and without our coaches, it wouldn’t be possible at all.”
“He’s always been an incredible football player, and just to see him being nominated for such awards is amazing. I know how hard he works at everything, and it’s just great,” said Tracy of Feaster’s accomplishment.
The winner of the Gigliardi Trophy will be announced in Salem, Va. prior to the DIII national championship game on Dec. 20.
Tracy has seen his football career end and be revitalized, while Feaster has continued to write his name in the Hardin-Simmons record books, and looks to become the first Cowboy to ever win the Gigliardi Trophy since its induction in 1993.
Both have one more season left at Hardin-Simmons, and neither plan to let the 2008 season be the highlight of their careers.
“We need to turn this program around, and the biggest thing we need to do is beat Mary Hardin-Baylor,” said Feaster. “Our team is so strong that our expectations are high every year. A 9-2 season is not good enough for us. The biggest goals for me are to go 10-0, beat Mary Hardin-Baylor and leave a legacy for next year’s juniors and sophomores to build on.”
“We’re capable of anything,” said Tracy. “I think we’re a national-championship-caliber team. We have 10 guys coming back on defense and seven on offense, including the Offensive Player of the Year. We should be a force.”
Tracy will graduate from Hardin-Simmons in May and attend graduate school while he finishes his time patrolling the field for the Cowboy secondary. Following grad school, he will continue to work in football, but will trade his helmet for a headset in his pursuit of a coaching career.
Feaster will graduate in December before going for his Master’s degree in sports management.