Former Lanett Panthers reflect on what Coach Clifford Story Jr. means to them

Published 6:26 pm Monday, May 22, 2023

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Head Coach Clifford Story managed the sidelines at Lanett for 14 seasons. That reign has come to an end as Story announced via social media he was stepping aside as the Panthers’ head man.

With 114 wins and two state titles, he goes down as one of the winningest coaches in the history of Lanett football. However, his impact stretches far beyond the football field. 

Coach Story helped to put Lanett athletics on the map. During his time as head coach his players left and went to schools such as Alabama, Clemson, Oregon, West Georgia, and many other major programs. 

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Coach Story said that this was “one of the hardest decisions” that he has ever had to make. However, after some laughter and tears, Story is at peace with his decision. 

“People have reached out to me and just let me know what I meant to Lanett,” Story said. “I feel really good about the decision, my heart and mind are clear.”

Robert Maddox coached with Story during his time at Auburn High School. Maddux said that the decision came as no surprise to him. 

“I know where his heart is,” Maddox said. “He loves his children.” Maddox, like Story, said that he struggled with his kids playing college ball while he was a high school coach. 

Maddox said that Story was a “grinder” and that he was the “kinda guy I wanted to have on my staff.”

“Cliff is a class act,” Maddox said. “I couldn’t be happier for him.” Like most people, Maddox also thinks there will be more coaching opportunities for Story down the line. 

It was no surprise that many former players jumped at the opportunity to speak on the type of impact that Story had on them. 

Trey Abner graduated from Lanett High School in 2021. He was close to quitting football before he got to high school, but Coach Story convinced him otherwise. 

“He’s meant a lot to me,” Abner said. “I didn’t like football at all. I wanted to quit so he came and talked to me and just made me want to play football. He showed me that I can be a leader on his team in the future.”

Story acted as a father figure for many athletes that came through his program. Kadarius Zackery graduated from Lanett in 2021 and is currently continuing his playing career at West Georgia. For Kadarius, Story was more than just his head coach. 

“He was like the father figure that I never had,” Zackery said. “He taught me more than football. He taught me how to be a man.” 

Zackery said one special moment for him was when Lanett won the state championship. Zackery said, “I cried and he just held me.”

Some of the best lessons taught by Story were things that his athletes could use later on in life. Seidrion Langston also graduated from Lanett High School in 2021 and shared how his former coach has helped him navigate through life after high school. 

“He really taught us a lot on the field that played out in life,” Langston said. “His main thing was when stuff gets hard, go harder.” 

Most of the credit for what Lanett’s athletics program is today belongs to Coach Story. Before Story came to Lanett, the Panthers had never won an AHSAA state championship. Story was able to accomplish this feat twice in three seasons. 

Cameron Reed graduated from Lanett in 2017. He worked with the football team and witnessed the rebuilding of that program. Reed described Story as a “one call that’s all” type of person. 

“Coach Story means everything to me,” Reed said. “I was the first person to greet him when he came to Lanett.” 

Story told Reed that “he was going to be somebody”. He then helped him to get a full ride to college. As far as Reed is concerned, Story deserves to get his flowers and be inducted into the Hall of fame. 

“This guy got a waterboy a scholarship,” Reed said. “I’ll be the first person to send a letter to whomever.”

Many things went into Story deciding to step down as the football coach for Lanett. Story said he came to this decision after “a lot of prayers and a lot of fasting”. 

“It was just time,” Story said. “You just know when it’s time.” 

“I have two boys playing FBS football,” Story said. “I just wanted to be a dad. I didn’t want to travel and watch them play with reservations. I wanted to be able to go there and enjoy and take my time coming back.” 

Story did not want to give anything less than 100% to Lanett High School or the city of Lanett. Ultimately, his love for Lanett helped him to make the decision to step down. 

“Lanett is a great place and I didn’t want to cheat this place,” Story said. “The community, the mayor, the city, the administration, the board, and everybody you could name have played a role in the success that we’ve had here.” 

Despite stepping down from his role as Head Coach for Lanett’s football team, Story is not ready to close the door on a return to the sidelines. 

“Coaching is still in my blood,” Story said. “It’s still in my veins. I still want to do it at some point. Moving ahead, I’m not saying that I’m done coaching.” 

For now, Story will still serve as the Athletic Director and Transportation Supervisor for Lanett High School.