Lanett to play unique season to keep soccer program alive

Published 10:01 am Thursday, March 14, 2024

Soccer season is underway for local high schools, and several programs are already off to successful seasons. The Lanett Panthers have been one of the best soccer teams in Chambers County in the past, but this season those within the program have had to fight just to keep it alive and going. 

The Panthers faced several challenges heading into the season while trying to field an AHSAA soccer team. One of the key challenges for Lanett was the lack of soccer in 2A. There were not enough teams in 2A that were close enough to Lanett for the Panthers to have a region and be eligible for the playoffs. 

Participation was not an issue for the Panthers as the team had 44 players sign up to play. Instead of letting the program fall by the wayside and leaving all those kids without a sport, Lanett decided to field a team outside of the AHSAA. 

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The Panthers decided to partner with Lanett Parks and Recreation and field a coed team to keep the program going and allow the players a chance to continue growing in and playing the sport they love. 

Lanett still needed someone to step up and lead the program, and Branquavious Bussey answered the call. Bussey, a former offensive lineman for the Panthers and Jacksonville State, is an assistant coach for the football team and was excited to face the challenges of leading the soccer program. 

“I’m just a man of challenges,” Bussey said. “Half of our school is Hispanic, so I’m just trying to get well known [with the kids]. I watch soccer a lot, I watch the Olympics and all that. That’s the stuff I’m trying to get to know, so why not?” 

Bussey does not have experience playing or coaching soccer as he played football and several sports in high school. Several of the players for Lanett have experience playing soccer and have helped Bussey learn the sport. 

“Man, I’m learning a lot,” Bussey said. “I probably come out here, and it’s stuff that I see on TV from watching USA, Lionel [Messi] and all them. It’s exciting. I know I ask a lot of questions. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. It’s a fun thing.” 

Lanett does not yet have a schedule finalized, but with 44 players combined with the rec department, the Panthers have enough players to split into at least four coed teams of 11 players. The program will be unique, but Bussey still expects the Panthers to be very competitive on the pitch. 

“They were phenomenal last year,” Bussey said. “Why not see if I can see if I can go out there and learn some stuff, see what they did and try to keep it rolling? We weren’t that successful in football, and now this is something that a lot of kids put their hard work into. I know we can be successful in this.” 

Just about the entirety of Lanett’s soccer team is Hispanic. That can create some challenges for Bussey as a first-time head coach. 

To get his point across and relate to the players, Bussey has to rely on some of the football players like Yonatan Morales and Silve Pacheco to translate for him. 

“I don’t know that much Spanish,” Bussey said. “I’ll come out here and say ‘Hey, everyone up.’ And they’ll just be like ‘Huh?’ I have to look over there to Yonatan. That’s [some of] the challenges. Just knowing them because this is my first year, I don’t know how far to push them.” 

The Panthers are still working on a schedule for the soccer season, but Bussey expects the team to start playing matches within the rec program within the next month or two.