Monday evening was one last special night for a special team. Surrounded by family and friends packed inside Tyner Academy's gym, the 59 players -- plus coaches and administrators -- who made up last season's Class 2A football state champions finally received their gold rings.
"We've been waiting on these for a while," said all-state linebacker Jersey Chubb. "I was shaking and my heart was pounding when I got mine. I may not ever take mine off. Just look at it."
Similar to the support shown throughout the season by packing the stands for the Rams' run to a 14-1 finish and the program's first state title in 25 years, the Tyner community rallied around the team as 39 donors helped raise more than $16,000 to help pay for the rings, which have a maroon and gold Rams head inlaid in the center, with the players' names on one side and "Tyner No. 1" on the other.
"It took everything in each of us to get these rings," said quarterback Josh Jackson, who rewrote the school's passing record book with more than 3,600 yards and 46 touchdowns to earn the Tennessee Titans 2A Mr. Football award. "There was not one point of the whole journey that was easy. These rings show we finished it the right way.
"Getting a ring was our biggest goal from the start, and it's something we pursued all season. This means more than any award I've gotten, because it signifies how we worked together to achieve something bigger than any one of us."
When senior defensive backs Zashun Hubbard and Rayshaun Hinton combined to stop Decatur County Riverside's two-point conversion attempt in the final minute of last December's BlueCross Bowl at Finley Stadium, it secured a 26-24 triumph that enabled Tyner to become Hamilton County's first public school to win a football state title since Signal Mountain in 2010.
Seven players earned all-state recognition, and head coach Scott Chandler was named the Tennessee Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year for 2A. All seven all-state selections were from a class of 17 seniors -- Jackson, Hinton and Chubb, along with linebacker Trae Ruffin, defensive lineman Jamarion Varnell, running back Markel McKinley and offensive lineman Jonah Chapman.
The Rams allowed an average of just eight points per game, racked up seven shutouts, and only four of their 15 opponents managed to score in double figures.
"Several things had to happen before we could accomplish this," said Chandler, who stepped down as head coach in February after two seasons to accept an offer to work closer to his north Georgia home. "The kids had to come together as brothers and love each other, pick each other up and push each other to work hard.
"The players had to believe in themselves. I think a problem today is that a lot of young folks don't believe in themselves, so our whole staff took it upon ourselves to preach to those kids every day that we knew they could be special until they finally believed it, too.
"I've been coaching for 35 years, and this is the first one of these I've ever gotten. To win a state championship is something that is incredibly hard to accomplish. Years from now, it won't be so much about the games, but those guys will remember the process of being together and what it took to get here."
As Monday's program closed, new Rams head coach Christian Mainor, who worked as the team's offensive coordinator last season, held up his ring as he addressed the returning players.
"This is the standard here," Mainor said. "If y'all want another one of these, and I think we all do, then it's time to get to work in the weight room."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.