KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Bryson Rosser was out of town celebrating his 30th birthday when he received a phone call that would change his life. Central High School was on the other end with an offer for Rosser to be the new head football coach of the Bobcats.
“I got the call and I was just I looked at everything a little bit differently,” Rosser said. “I knew every action moving forward was to help make a program better.”
He wasn’t taking over a program like Maryville or Alcoa, the Bobcats were far from an East Tennessee perennial powerhouse. Instead, Central was a program that had won only 26 games the previous seven seasons making the post-season just once.
Rosser had no promises for prominence.
“I had three goals when I got here,” Rosser explained. “I wanted to have a program that was filled with character. A program that was filled with respect. And I wanted to give the guys the best times of their lives.”
He couldn’t ensure the last one, but worked diligently to make the first two goals a reality.
When other kids were watching the Super Bowl at their friend’s house, Rosser’s team was at Life-Spring Senior Living Community watching with it’s residents as the Patriots claimed their sixth title. On the first day of elementary school, the Bobcats could be seen opening doors and doling out high-fives as the kids started their year.
It was that, not the wins, that quickly endeared Rosser to his new principal Andrew Brown – who’s also the parent of a freshman on the team.
“As a father, I thought what else can you ask for?” Brown said. “No one can promise wins and loses you’re playing with 16 and 17-year-old kids. But if a man is willing to pour himself into children and make them better people and teach them how to be champions in life that’s all you can ask for.”
Off the field the Bobcats were going to be winning so long as Rosser was in charge, but being a head football coach winning on the field mattered too.
He molded his program, after one word: FAMILY. An acronym for his mantra ‘Forget About Me, I Love You.’ For some kids in the program, Central Football was and is literally their family.
“He’s basically been a father to me, honestly,” senior Tyler Bost said. “I came in my freshman year kind of nervous about playing football. I had taken a year off of playing rec league and came in not thinking I was going to play. But he saw the potential in me and worked me up that freshman year.”
“He’s like everyone’s second father figure,” senior Dakota Fawver echoed. “He’s always there for us, he’s always doing whatever he can to help us out. He’s always trying to be like involved in our eyes making sure our lives are okay. “
Acting as a family, the Bobcats would win. A lot.
In 2016, Rosser’s third season as head coach, the Bobcats season ended their season in Cookeville playing in the Class 4A State Championship Game against Memphis East, a game they lost 27-3.
“I told the underclassmen make sure you take this in because you’re not guaranteed to get back here,” he recalled. “I told them don’t take it for granted that you never know.”
The Bobcats would be back, two times in the following three years. Those trips ended with the gold ball in the hands of Rosser’s bobcats.
By the end of the 2019 season, the Bobcats were a high school football powerhouse. Three trips to the State Championship game in four years, four straight state-semi finals and sixty wins over the last six years.
Then Harvard happened.
“Completely came out of nowhere,” Rosser said. “My wife got an unbelievable opportunity to a dream job of hers. She’ll be working on the admissions board up in Boston, Massachusetts and wasn’t a very easy decision for us to make.”
His wife, Brooke, had cheered on with nervous anticipation every high school football Friday night, wiped away tears of joy watching her husband win two state titles. It was his turn to become the cheerleader.
Immediately he thought of his team and his students, if there was a way he could teach them a lesson through his life he was going to do it.
“For the females, the young female that I mentor here at the school it’s how focused are you on your goals, what do you want to accomplish, what do you want to go after,” Rosser said. “Make sure to reach for the stars and make sure that you have someone that supports you as well.”
“And for the young men that I mentor it’s hey sometimes you gotta step to the side and have the ones closest to you make moves that are best for them but you have to support them and be there for them.”
There’s no guidebook for how to navigate what’s next for what’s next for Rosser, but there is solace in knowing he’s left East Tennessee a little brighter than he found it.
“That’s something that I learned from the guys that were mentoring me you always leave a place in better shape than what you get it in,” he said. “I know for a fact from an academic standpoint, from a physical standpoint, the field, the field house, the facilities and from a mental, emotional standpoint I know the school, the team, the community is in a lot better shape than when I got here so that’s a good feeling for sure.”