COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The tattoo that spreads across Terrell Robinson's rawboned right bicep is more than simple adornment.
There is significance to the ink on Robinson's arm, a cross with the word "Papa" printed above it and "Dave" just beneath serving as a permanent reminder of the larger-than-life influence of the grandfather who helped raise him.
Before cancer took his grandfather's life last fall, the two were inseparable. Whether it was fishing, working on cars or cutting grass, Papa Dave took every opportunity to teach Terrell the same values that had made him a well-respected member of this commuity.
"He was like another father for me," Terrell said. "He was my inspiration. I wanted to find a way to have a part of him with me at all times, so now when I look down at my arm, just seeing his name reminds me of the things he taught me.
"He's a big reason I am the person I am now."
South Pittsburg clings to its Friday night heroes, and despite Friday's heartbreaking two-point loss to Union City in the Class 1A state championship game, Terrell ensured that he will be remembered as one of the most talented players and one of the best leaders in program history. The Pirates have produced 13 Mr. Football finalists and 51 all-state players, but few played a season in which the team's fortunes depended so heavily on their individual success.
Although he doubled in the secondary, intercepting seven passes and returning one of those for a score, Terrell's biggest impact came on offense where he rewrote school passing records for a single game, a season and a career. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound University of Tennessee at Chattanooga commitment finished with 1,898 passing yards, rushed for 1,400 and accounted for 49 total touchdowns.
His offensive value was perhaps most obvious by his absence earlier this season. As his teammates took the field to play Boyd-Buchanan, Terrell was being taken to the emergency room with the flu. Without him, an offense that averaged 398 yards per game struggled for fewer than 100 yards against the stout Buccaneers defense.
"We knew from day one that he had the type tools we really hadn't seen in a quarterback here," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "No question about it, we changed our entire offense based on one person. We built everything around him.
"I think UTC is getting an absolute steal, because he's as talented as a lot of guys I see going to the bigger schools. And the thing I would tell anybody is that as impressive as his stats and highlights are, the best part about him -- what you can't see on video -- is the type character he has. He's going to be the guy who goes to class, shows up at practice wanting to improve and does everything he's supposed to. Terrell is as good a leader as I've ever been around."
The Robinson family's athletic resume included Terrell's father Vincent, who played basketball at UTC, and his uncle Tyrone, who played football at Tennessee. Terrell's older brother Antonio is a junior receiver at Tennessee Tech, and his first-cousin Ty is currently playing for Carson-Newman.
In Friday's loss, with his team trailing by a touchdown, Terrell accounted for all 72 yards in a gutsy scoring drive, including his third scoring run of the game. He then bounced off one tackler and dove into the end zone for the go-ahead two-point conversion with 3:27 remaining. But much as it had throughout the game, Union City countered with a 12-play drive to set up the winning field goal with two seconds left.
After the postgame interviews concluded, Terrell walked to the collection of Union City players as they were being interviewed and shook each opponent's hand, proving why the fabric of who he is as a person reminds so many of Papa Dave.
"I see a lot of my dad in Terrell," Vincent said. "They had a great relationship. Antonio is more loud and outgoing like me, but Terrell is more laid-back and he just carries himself more like his granddad.
"My dad taught all of his boys to put God first and everything else would be added to your life. He was always real proud of his boys, and I know he would be real proud of Terrell."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...