COSBY — James Groat knew it would feel weird to wear red and stand on the visitors’ bench at Cosby High School on Thursday night.
How would it not be? He wore Eagle blue and stood on the home side for five seasons, the second-to-last one ending after four games due to the Covid-19 pandemic before he resigned in the spring of 2021.
But as the game began, the emotional toll took a backseat — especially during one loud moment.
After positioning himself just right, Cocke County freshman Jefferson Cervellon rifled a shot on goal late in the game’s first half.
The ball soared over the fence, hit the top of the Cosby football field house and sent the reverberations of loosened metal clanging across Virgil Ball Stadium.
“That,” said Groat, “was crazy.”
Later, Cervellon missed again — this time with the ball thudding against the left side of the Eagles’ football goalpost.
The high and wide shots frustrated the talented freshman, but the misses were few and far between.
Because Cosby’s defense, like its stadium fence, could not contain Cervellon or the Fighting Cocks’ offense.
Cervellon scored his first goal 32 seconds into the game, then he and Cornelio Campos each notched a hat trick as CCHS shot past Cosby 9-0 in one half for Groat’s first high school game on The Hill since his resignation.
CCHS is now 3-0 in Groat’s first season at the helm in Newport, having beaten opponents by a combined score of 27-1.
Moreover, those three goals put Cervellon at 10 goals through the first three games this season.
For a comparison of what he is seeing out of No. 14, Groat drew back to his days as Cosby’s girls assistant coach.
“I haven’t seen the likes of this since (2021 Cosby grad) Leah Murray,” he said, “someone who averages a hat trick like she did.”
Added CCHS assistant Ben Clevenger: “I don’t know what to say. It’s crazy, and to think that he’s only a freshman? That kid’s good.”
So are Cornelio and Leo Campos, who form two other parts of Cocke County’s offensive machine.
Altogether, those three remind Groat not just of Murray, but of the Cosby trio — Murray, Macie Mathes and Leia Groat, the coach’s daughter — that helped lead the Lady Eagles to a 16-5 record and state tournament berth in 2019.
Speaking of Groat’s past, though, he said that the strange feeling was present prior to kickoff.
But things were made “un-weird” when Groat ran into former Cosby football and soccer coach Kevin Hall — the game administrator on Thursday, with whom Groat coached during his run as an assistant for the Cosby boys team.
“Love that man,” Groat summarized of Hall.
He also talked to Maddy Dawson, a member of Groat’s first Cosby team, and Meredith Bell, another assistant on the 2019 team.
Dawson and Bell are both serving as assistants for Hillery Griffin in an Eagles program that did not have a season last year, and Dawson said she was excited to face her former coach.
“We’ve kept in touch since I’ve graduated,” she said, “and (Groat) calls me All-State since I was All-State my senior year.”
Now, Groat is hopeful for their future in coaching, just as he is his own team’s possibilities.
“I’m so proud of Maddy and Meredith,” Groat said. “They’re going to build this program up and stick with it, I promise you.”
He offered similar thoughts in the handshake line, hugging each Cosby player and wishing each one good luck as he passed.
Then, it was back to his new players. Back to a group with which Groat has bonded quickly, as he swapped jokes with them on the sideline Thursday — only to yell in a way that would evoke sympathy for any victim of his latest rant.
“It feels like I have 18 sons,” Groat said with a smile. “Moments where I ground them forever — and moments where I want to give them a hug and say, ‘Great job.’”
Thursday appeared to have more of the latter. But that does not mean Groat is satisfied.
“We go to Rocky Top (Sports World), and we could be humbled real quick,” he warned of this weekend’s matchups. “We could be three down and be 3-3 when we come back to play Cumberland Gap.”
Only time will tell.
Still, after discussing his team’s next goal, Groat did take another moment to savor the “un-weirdness.”
He walked to the end of the field, close to where Cervellon’s miss had landed earlier in the night.
There, he hugged several former players, ones who were members of the 2020 team whose season ended in a way that all but pushed Groat out of coaching for good.
Among the laughs and exchanges, one phrase uttered to Groat carried across the dusk-darkened field — this one even clearer than the banging metal caused by a soccer ball: “I don’t even care that you’re wearing red.”
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.