KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Under a jet black early December sky and beaming stadium lights, the Central Bobcats were euphoric, as they raised the Class 5A state championship gold ball in Cookeville for a second consecutive season.
Nearly six months later with the sun shining bright and the mid-June heat beating down the Bobcats finally received their memento from that December night, their state title rings.
“It felt amazing to know that all the hard work we put into it, it finally paid off today,” graduating senior Jason Merritts said.
A year ago the ceremony was held inside a mere few months after claiming the school’s first-ever football state championship. A worldwide pandemic we’ve come to know as COVID-19 pushed back the unveiling this go around.
“Really my favorite thing is how we designed it,” graduating senior Malik Robinson said. “That matte black and the red CHS (Central High School’s logo) that’s on top it really just sets the ring off nice.”
The rings unveiling was met with gasps of awe and face-wide smiles, but going into the ceremony there was a team-wide sense that something or rather someone was missing. The head coach that led Central to back-to-back state titles.
“It was very, very disappointing,” Merritts said. “Coach Rosser is a phenomenal person, everybody gravitates towards him he’s just an amazing human being.”
Bryson Rosser stepped down as the Bobcats head coach in early January after leading the team to its second state title in his six-year tenure. He and his wife, Brooke, were moving to Boston where Brooke had landed a job at Harvard University.
His players understood the move then, respected him for it. But the notion that he wouldn’t be there to celebrate what they’d accomplished together was a little harder to grasp.
“I called him today around about 2:30 and he told me that he couldn’t make it,” Robinson said. “We were all pretty down and bummed about it.”
Rosser was in the car when Robinson face timed him Thursday afternoon. When asked where he was he simply said he’d needed to get out of the house for a bit. What Robinson, and his teammates, didn’t know was that he didn’t just get out of the house, or the city.
“I really promised them that I would not miss this for anything,” Bryson Rosser said.
Rosser had left Massachusettes early Thursday morning, flying first to Charlotte then after a layover arriving in Knoxville unbeknownst to the team.
“To be able to come back and do this, I was telling some of the coaches jokingly, it almost feels like ‘The Last Dance,’ the last chance to kind of culminate it,” Rosser said.
The ring distribution was done by class, up first the seniors. While many were gathered together taking a pre-ring ceremony picture Rosser jumped in front of the camera. Instantaneously he was met with a face-wide smiles, a few playful shoves and echoes of “you lied” through the small group.
“It was great, I mean I kinda figured their expression but you can never imitate it for what it really was,” Rosser said.
“It was just crazy, it was really just a big relief of knowing that a person that is like another father figure in a way could make it to your big day for you,” Robinson said of Rossers surprise.
This senior class has dealt with unforeseeable change, no spring sports or no prom, no final day of class celebration, or any of the traditional senior sendoffs. But under a hot June sky, there was normalcy once again as the coach they’d battled with for four years handed them the rings they’d earned together.
“Yanno there’s a lot of negative things going on in this world but to know that we have coach Rosser here with us for the ring ceremony and for graduation it’s just amazing,” Merritts said.
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