Lanett quarterback Kristian Story has been a student of the game ever since he was in diapers begging his father to take him along to football practice. A lot has changed since Clifford Story’s early coaching days, but one thing that has not is Kristian’s desire to be out on the field.
Kristian is closing in on the start of his senior season, one that is highly anticipated given his talent and the Panthers’ high aspirations. The middle son of Clifford and wife Kristina, Kristian has become a star on the football field and is determined to lead the Panthers to their second state championship in the last three years.
“We've been working really hard,” Kristian said. “Last year, the season didn't end how we really wanted it to. Here, we feel like it's a state championship or it wasn't a good season. We came up short, so that's really driving us this summer and going into the season now. It's really driving us because we want to get back on top of that mountain we once were on.
“We got knocked off last year, so we're just trying to get back.”
Clifford called on Kristian to step in as starting quarterback in 2017 after older brother Tre graduated, and Kristian responded by going all in on playing the position and ultimately leading the Panthers to a perfect season.
Although his junior season did not end with a championship, Kristian again impressed, throwing for 2,434 yards and 40 touchdowns while rushing for 1,207 yards and 16 touchdowns.
One factor in Kristian’s constant success is his familiarity with playing on offense. The player known by many as “Ken Ken” has earned a tremendous amount of trust in terms of being allowed to call audibles based on what he sees — his results show that trust has not been mishandled.
Clifford credited Kristian’s early exposure to the sport as a major key in how comfortable Kristian feels behind center today.
Clifford remembers taking a young Kristian with him to practice at Riverdale High School in Georgia and loading his bottle with ice so the milk wouldn’t spoil. Clifford also recalls all three of his sons — Tre, Kristian and Caden — sitting up with their father as he poured over game tape of an upcoming opponent.
“He's just been around it,” Clifford said. “I know sometimes it was a little demanding for (my sons), but they started gravitating to it. They started enjoying it, especially on Saturdays. He just grew up in the game. It's just from being around it.”
As gifted as Kristian is at quarterback, his natural athleticism makes him even more of a coveted recruit. He put that playmaking ability on display in the second round of the playoffs against Marengo, when he played cornerback and promptly pulled down three interceptions to help Lanett advance.
Kristian’s skills led to a flurry of scholarship offers from schools such as Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Notre Dame. Ultimately, he decided on Alabama, where he’ll soon find himself as part of one of the most talent-rich programs in the country.
Kristian’s future is full of promise and excitement, but it’s not where his attention is right now. The end of Lanett’s 2018 season left a bad taste in his mouth, and he’s already seeing signs that the Panthers might be partying like it’s 2017 again.
“Yesterday we were standing out there (on the field). He put his arm around me and was like, 'Dad, I'm telling you — we're going to win it again,'” Clifford said. “He really believes that. He really thinks that. We've got a good nucleus of kids coming back to help him out. We'll see what the future holds.”
Don’t mistake Kristian’s confidence for arrogance. He’s experienced what it takes to win it all, and it’s his mission to make it happen one more time.
“I feel like there's nothing like playing on Friday nights, especially in our stadium with our fans,” Kristian said. “I feel like we have to get to where we're trying to be because we don't have another chance to do it together. Some of us are going to go to the next level and play, but we won't all be together the way we've been trying to do it.”