In December, the Lanett Panthers finished off a perfect season with their second state championship in three seasons. Five months later, the Panthers received yet another reward for their hard work.
The Panthers’ football players picked up their state championship rings on Tuesday. The rings commemorate a 2019 season in which Lanett went 14-0 and captured the fourth state championship in program history.
Even after all this time passed between the championship game, Lanett receiver Seidrion Langston made it clear the wait for the rings were worthwhile.
“It felt like the cherry on top of an ice cream. Even though we didn’t get a chance to have the actual celebration, it felt good to finally have them in our possession,” Langston said. “Preparing for championships starts way before the season. Spring and summer are probably the biggest challenges at Lanett, and they really make or break you. Going into the season everyone doubted us because of the players we lost, and it motivated us throughout the season. it wasn’t easy at all on the road to Jordan-Hare.”
The Panthers had their work cut out for them in 2019 after losing several important players — including Oregon signee Trikweze Bridges and 6-foot-7 receiver Tifton Dobbs — and the situation only intensified when quarterback Kristian Story was limited early on due to offseason shoulder surgery. Even with the unknowns and a recovering Story, Lanett never let up and quickly rattled off nine straight regular-season wins and captured their third straight region title.
The dominance didn’t stop in the postseason, either.
Lanett outscored its first two playoff opponents by a combined 99-6 then took it to Isabella 41-21 in the Class 1A quarterfinals. The Panthers found themselves in a shootout in the state semifinals but topped Sweet Water 42-35 when Story hit Larontavious Hurston for the go-ahead touchdown with 38 seconds remaining.
The Panthers took on defending 1A state champion Mars Hill Bible for the title in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium on Dec. 5. Story put on a show with four total touchdowns to help the Panthers put the game away and walk away with a 41-30 victory.
The game’s conclusion brought a sense of relief and accomplishment that the players said they won’t ever forget.
“It felt really good because I finally achieved one of my biggest goals in high school,” defensive lineman Dametrious Johnson said. “I was speechless knowing all the hard work we put in the entire year finally paid off.”
“It was the best feeling I ever had. I always wanted to win a state championship,” running back BJ Smith said. “(Head coach Clifford) Story preached the whole year, ‘We haven’t had a complete game all year’, and that game we had a complete game.”
For Kristian Story, who was named the title game’s MVP, the rings are the exclamation point on a period of celebration that has continued ever since the Mars Hill game ended.
“It’s the best feeling ever to receive the rings after working so hard for it. There’s no better feeling than that, knowing everything you’ve done to get to this point is finally paying off,” Story said. “It means a lot not only because we accomplished our goal, but because it brings joy to the community as well.”
Story is one of 10 seniors who officially leave Lanett as champions. For the players who will be back in 2020 like Langston, the rings are motivation to go earn another one this season.
“I actually get emotional when thinking about my senior year, especially football season. Football brought me and some of my teammates I call my brothers so much closer like Caden (Story), Trey (Abner), and Taetae (Larontavious Hurston),” Langston said. “I just want to go out with a bang with my boys. I believe we can win it as we find our identity this summer going into fall camp. I feel like this team is going to be special because we’re actually the babies of the 2017 state championship team and we know what it takes.
“I believe we can do it. I know we’re gonna do it.”