By Mike Blackerby
It was likely not just happenstance.
Xavier Washington’s arrival at Central coincided with the turnaround of the Bobcats’ struggling football program.
Washington took the field in 2015 as a promising, yet rawboned freshman.
Central had gone just 21-31 the previous five years as then second-year coach Bryson Rosser was in the early stages of his rebuilding project.
Rosser saw something special right away in Washington.
He knew he could re-tool the once-proud Central program around the hard-hitting safety.
“Xavier was always mature for his age and he was a specimen physically,” said Rosser.
“We called him ‘Nike mannequin’ because he was built like the Nike mannequin and he was only 15 years old.”
Rosser saw in Washington everything he wanted to instill in the program.
“He has a contagious personality. You’ve got to have kids like him when you’re building a foundation. I knew I had a lot of time to invest in him.”
Rosser’s investment resulted in a huge payout for Washington and the Bobcats.
Four years later, the once raw but gifted freshman left Central with a treasure trove of honors, awards and achievements: Tennessee Tech signee, member of the winningest senior class (42-14) in school history and state champion.
And one more – the 5Star Preps 2018 Defensive Player of the Year.
Washington said he was fortunate that the stars aligned upon his arrival at Central.
“It was just a blessing I got to come to Central and play for coach Rosser and all of our other great coaches,” he said.
The Bobcats went 9-3 during Washington’s freshman season, losing to Greeneville in Round 2 of the Class 4A playoffs.
Central finished 2016 in the state 4A finals where it lost to Memphis East.
The Bobcats stumbled early, but finished strong in 2017, going 8-6 with a 5A semifinal loss to Catholic.
Last season, Central recovered from an 0-2 start as it lost by narrow margins to Tennessee High and Fulton.
The Bobcats then reeled off 13 consecutive wins and posted a 14-9 decision over Henry County to win the first state championship in school history since the advent of the playoff system in 1969.
Just as Central grew over the past four years, so did the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Washington.
He knew he couldn’t just rely on his physical ability. He said he became a student of the game.
“I always watched film, but I really learned how to watch film this season,” explained Washington.
“I started digging in deeper and learning about play recognition and things like down and distance (tendencies).”
As the season wore on, Central and Washington became more and more dominating.
“Ever since I got to Central we were known for defense,” said Washington.
“We wanted to take it to the next level this season.”
Washington had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup in Central’s win over Henry County in the state championship game.
For the season, he led Central’s ball-hawking defense with 96 tackles, 132 total stops and 23.5 tackles for loss. He also had nine sacks, three interceptions and he caused three fumbles.
Washington ended his career with 244 total tackles.
The Bobcats allowed just 10.3 points per game this season.
“We really weren’t playing for the wins, we were playing for each other and we wanted to prove we had the best defense in the state,” explained Washington.
The Bobcats did just that, and also proved they had the best 5A team in the state along the way.