TANNER — Seniors Kyle Shoulders and Greg Maclin have heard the phrase, “Go to church,” again and again from Tanner High School football coach Laron White.
“Go to church.” It’s a simple wisdom White often heard from his father, legendary Courtland High coach Louis White.
The mantra was a foundation for Louis White’s success decades ago building a Courtland football tradition that led to four state championships.
Hard work, student and parental involvement, caring for his players and faith in God — those were Louis White’s tenets.
Practice ended early on Wednesdays because he required his players to attend midweek services.
“It always helps if you have faith,” Louis White said. “If you put God first, you can accomplish a lot.”
Observers said the 38-year-old Laron White appears to be building a Courtland-type tradition at Tanner, a place where athletic success is already a tradition.
Laron White looks like a younger version of his father. Both are quiet guys whose words can catch a teenager’s attention.
“He even has a little gray growing in,” said assistant coach Thomas Harris, who played for rival Hazlewood against the Whites’ Courtland teams.
Laron White has his 12-0 Rattlers ranked No. 1 in the state and preparing to play at Reeltown tonight in the Class 2A semifinals. A return to the state finals and a shot at a championship is on the line.
Louis White won 186 varsity football games in 34 years at Courtland, which later became R.A. Hubbard and was merged with Hazlewood High four years ago.
His Courtland teams made 17 straight playoff appearances that included a stretch from 1986 to 1995 in which the Chiefs won four state titles and finished state runner-up twice.
“Louis White is a legend in Alabama high school football,” Tanner assistant principal Vince Green said.
Green faced Louis White’s Courtland teams as a player and coach at Clements High.
The legendary coach was also credited by some with being influential in ending a racial divide that once split his school’s towns of Courtland and North Courtland.
“When push came to shove, all kids want to play. And if they really wanted to play, they came together,” Louis White said. “It was really one of the reasons we were successful.”
Observers said Laron White has done an excellent job of managing diversity at Tanner. White said Tanner is the most diverse school he has seen.
Laron White has taken liberally from his father’s coaching principles. He experienced their successes firsthand, playing on three state-title teams before losing in the championship game as a senior in 1991.
He has not, of course, demanded that his team attend church. As a public school employee, he can only recommend.
“Most of our kids are church-goers, but I don’t feel I can go that far and require them to attend church,” Laron White said. “I do try to emulate how he ran the team and cared for his players.
“We’re trying to build a program that we can consistently sell to the kids.”
He has been successful in his first head coaching job, building a 103-21 record in 10 years as Tanner coach.
“Some years have been better than others,” Laron White said. “But once the kids feel like they should win every game, they start thinking they deserve to win and are supposed to win.”
Shoulders said Laron White emphasizes “keeping your composure, no matter what the situation is.”
While their coach can be tough on them, he has a sense of humor.
“Coach White knows how to relate with us,” Maclin said. “He jokes sometimes with us, and he’s pretty funny.”
Shoulders recalled watching his coach being stung by wasps from a nest on the blocking sled at practice, a moment the entire team enjoyed.
“He let out a couple of his high-pitched yells and was jumping around,” Shoulders said. “He had us all rolling with laughter.”
Laron White, who played for Gene Stallings at the University of Alabama, doesn’t run the offenses or defenses that his dad used. Times have changed, they both said.
Green said a big part of Laron White’s success is being a good role model. His players rarely get into trouble.
Jimmy McCrary, a volunteer assistant affectionately known as “Coach Rat,” played for the Rattlers in the 1950s and has missed only three games since 1958. He is impressed with the Tanner coach.
“His teams are intense and fundamentally sound,” McCrary said. “He also cares for his players.”
Tanner graduate and longtime fan Billy Sandy said Laron White’s disciplined, straight-shooting style is a perfect fit in a community with a long history of athletic success.
“This is just a good community,” Sandy said. “Everybody gets along. If you need help, you get some right fast.”
Laron White said he sees the similarities in the Tanner and Courtland communities. Naturally, he prefers Tanner.
“We’re close enough to Decatur, Athens and Huntsville that people can live here and find jobs,” Laron White said. “A lot of people are having to leave Courtland for jobs in Decatur or Florence.”
Laron White would love to win a state title like his father. His players said they know he played for his father, but he doesn’t talk much about it.
“I didn’t know they were so good,” Maclin said. “Sure, we’d like to have that kind of success.”
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