FORT PAYNE — Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment in a question-and-answer series with DeKalb County coaches, taking a look at their playing journeys and their coaching experiences. In Part 8, The Times-Journal interviewed Fort Payne wrestling coach Austin Panell.
Q: How long have you been in coaching both as a head coach and as an assistant?
A: I have been coaching both wrestling and football for the past five years. I was an assistant for two years on Fort Payne’s wrestling program, and I have been the head coach of the wrestling program for the past three years. I have also coached Fort Payne’s middle school football program for the past five years.
Q: What led you to coaching?
A: I was led to coaching from the love of sports and being able to help others. After being coached by some wonderful men, and the impact they had on my life, I knew from that point that I wanted to do the same for others.
Q: What was your playing career like? High school? College?
A: I wrestled and played football in high school. I was a four-year letterman in football and a two-year letterman in wrestling. After high school I went on to play football at Carson Newman University. I loved playing both sports and that is why I am extremely grateful to be able to coach both today.
Q: Who were some notable coaches who most impacted the way you instruct players?
A: I’ve had many coaches who have impacted my life in a very positive way. Some of those coaches are: Coach Paul Ellis, coach Scot Shankles, coach Patrick Barnes and coach Greg Jefcoat. All of those men will hold a special place in my heart. They taught me what it meant to be a man, how to treat others, and how much impact one person could have on a young man’s life. I coach because they were role models to me, and I hope that one day I can leave the same impact on my athletes that they left on me. Without those men I would not be where I am today.
Q: What are among your favorite sports memories either as a player or coach? What made them special?
A: As a player, the best memories I have are those with my teammates and the time we had battling with each other and against each other. Many of my memories come from times in the locker room together and the camaraderie that we built over our times together. Some of my best friends to this day are guys that I played with at Fort Payne. As a coach, one of my most fond memories is when we wrestled Hartselle and Mae Jemison in the state dual championship two years ago. Our guys went out and wrestled their tails off and we beat Hartselle by four points in order to move on to the second round of the tournament. We then faced Mae Jemison and lost to them by five points, but it is one of my fondest memories because of the way our guys responded to the challenge. We knew going into it we didn’t match up well to Mae Jemison, and so I asked the kids to move around some weight classes so that we would have the best opportunity to win, and every one of our kids were completely selfless and did what we asked for the success of the team. Those are some of my most fond memories of playing and coaching.