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Marlee Watts receives Wendy’s Heisman honors

DAILY LEADER / Photo Submitted / Brookhaven Academy's Marlee Watts (left) accepts her Wendy's Heisman Finalist Award from former New Orleans Saints All-Pro running back and Ole Miss standout, Deuce McAllister, at the ceremony.

DAILY LEADER / Photo Submitted / Brookhaven Academy’s Marlee Watts (left) accepts her Wendy’s Heisman Finalist Award from former New Orleans Saints All-Pro running back and Ole Miss standout, Deuce McAllister, at the ceremony.

Brookhaven Academy senior Marlee Watts was selected as a top 10 finalist among senior girls and 10 seniors for the Wendy’s Heisman Award. A luncheon, honoring the top 10 candidates, was held at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson last February.

Former New Orleans Saints All-Pro running back and Ole Miss standout, Deuce McAllister, was the guest speaker for the Wendy’s sponsored event.

The Wendy’s Heisman is nationally known, and the awards program was created in 1994 by the Wendy’s and the Heisman Memorial Trust. High school athletes are asked to fill out a form stating their achievements both academically and athletically, their community involvement, plus submit an essay regarding an influential person in their lives. One male and one female from each school are eligible for the honors, which recognizes outstanding achievement in athletics, academics and the community. Each state is represented by one male and one female in the national competition.

DAILY LEADER / Photo Submitted / Brookhaven Academy's Marlee Watts (right) poses with her uncle, Barry Gray, at the Wendy's Heisman Award luncheon.

DAILY LEADER / Photo Submitted / Brookhaven Academy’s Marlee Watts (right) poses with her uncle, Barry Gray, at the Wendy’s Heisman Award luncheon.

Marlee Watts, 18, is the daughter of Lee and Lucy Watts. She was joined at the luncheon by Coach Barry Gray and his wife, the former Lindy Noble of Brookhaven. Watts’ essay highlighted Gray’s positive influence during her younger years that has continued to inspire her ambition and God’s direction for her life.

“Besides my parents, Coach Gray has been my greatest role model throughout my high school career,” Watts said. “He has modeled perseverance, ambition and most of all integrity. He not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk.”

Watts said Gray had won many championships in girl’s basketball at BA, but his ultimate goal has always been that each girl leaves knowing Jesus Christ as their most reliable coach and God’s word as life’s playbook.

Gray has coached girls’ basketball at Northpoint Christian School, formerly Southern Baptist Education Center, in Southaven for the last four years. His latest coaching achievement includes a three-peat into the TSSAA Final Four in Nashville, Tennessee. The Brookhaven Academy gymnasium is named after his father, John R. Gray, a coach and headmaster (now emeritus) at the school for 25 years.

Gray coached Watts through the eighth grade before his departure.

“All of us (team) respected him,” she said. “He said above all else we had to put God first in everything we do.”

A tough disciplinarian, Grays’ teams played strong defense, optimized structured coaching and outhustled many stronger, taller opponents.

“Whenever our team was behind at halftime, he would tell us, ‘No matter how rough the waters get, you have to get the ship home,'” Watts said.

Watts, a 5-foot and 3-inch guard for the Lady Cougars, elected to give up playing basketball her senior year to concentrate on tennis, cheerleading and academics. A UCA All-American cheerleader, she has won two straight Class AA titles in girls’ doubles. She also plays soccer. There’s an abundance of athletic ability in her family. Her father was an all-around athlete at Pillow Academy in Greenwood and played infield for the Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball team. Her grandfather, Lee Watts Sr., was the first SEC All-American center fielder for the Bulldogs in 1947.

Watts’s mother is the former Lucy Noble. She and twin sister, Lindy, were standout guards for the Lady Cougars basketball program and went on to play Division 1 basketball for the Ole Miss Rebels. Her older brother, Austin, a recent Ole Miss graduate, was a tennis standout in the USTA and Brookhaven High School Most Valuable Player in 2010.

Watts juggles a busy athletic schedule with a demanding academic menu, too. She’s a member of the National Honor Society and maintains a 3.8 GPA. Looking ahead, she wants to pursue a career in sports medicine at Ole Miss and UMMC. The eventual goal is to become a sports medicine physical/occupational therapist for NCAA Collegiate Sports.

Watts’s community service activities include Lincoln County Junior Auxiliary Les Belles and Crown Club member, Upward Sports for Youth Basketball coach and a Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital volunteer. Watts’ immediate goal is to win a third straight state championship in tennis. Watts said she was honored to represent Lincoln County in the Wendy’s Heisman Award ceremony.