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A Path to Follow

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Who A.J. and Allisha are will always be, at least in part, because of where they are from.

As a leader, I always followed my dad. He's been my leader all of my life. He was my principal all four years of high school, so I just learned from him how to lead and how to take responsibility.
~A.J. Gray

A.J. and Allisha Gray are two of the most talented siblings in sports. The younger brother, A.J. is a starting safety for Georgia Tech. Elder sister Allisha, in her rookie season after being selected 4th overall in the 2017 WNBA Draft, recently helped lead South Carolina to a national championship. The two share remarkable athleticism, a passion for what they do and a perspective passed down from a man to whom they, and many others, look up to. Who A.J. and Allisha are will always be, at least in part, because of where they are from.

As a senior at Washington County High School, A.J. was named the state of Georgia's Gatorade Player of the Year, the second in his family to earn that distinction. He was a Parade All-American, going 28-2 in two years as a starting quarterback, leading the Golden Hawks to a pair of state title games. In a quarterfinal pairing his senior season, Gray rushed for 442 yards and eight touchdowns in a single game, Georgia records for a signal caller. He, that fall, was responsible for 64 total scores. Gray now has 93 career tackles with the Yellow Jackets.

For all that A.J. has accomplished, he, at this point, takes a back seat to big sister, likely something he has done before. Missing the majority of her senior year due to injury, Allisha was still the state AAA player of the year three times, pacing Washington County to a record of 88-4 in that span. Gray was additionally a member of the U18 USA National Team. She earned All-ACC honors for North Carolina in 2015, ultimately transferring to USC. Gray was the second-leading scorer for the national champion Gamecocks and went for 18 points and ten rebounds in the title bout.

"I was so proud of her I can't explain it," A.J. nodded of his sister winning it all. "It's just a blessing. It's just a blessing."

Allisha's championship was a special celebration for the entire Gray family, including older brother Mario East, who played football at Troy, and younger sister Ashley. The historic run is a powerful point of pride for everyone, though it can also now stand out in a friendly resume comparison, if need be.

"We don't really have a sibling rivalry, we just poke fun at each other. With him winning his bowl game, I was like 'you have a ring, too, it's not a national championship, but a ring is a ring'," she laughed. "We are very supportive of each other and very proud of each other."

Currently, Allisha is averaging 12.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Dallas Wings, both good for second on the team.

As their profiles have grown, one constant has helped keep the Gray kids grounded: their father. "Dad" isn't the only title for Allen Gray, an accomplished administrator who is one of the most respected men around. If you don't call him sir, it's because he has earned an even-more honored distinction; Allen goes by doctor, principal and major, alike. Dr. Gray runs the high school where A.J. and Allisha graduated, also serving as an Observer Controller officer with the 75th Training Command in the U.S. Army Reserves. Success, for the Gray family, starts at the top.

"As a leader, I always followed my dad. He's been my leader all of my life," A.J. added. "He was my principal all four years of high school, so I just learned from him how to lead and how to take responsibility."

Prospect to professional, guidance from dad, and mom Annie, has been an important part of A.J. and Allisha's skill sets.

"They have been very supportive. They have pretty much let me make decisions for myself, but before I make a decision I always like to get my parents' input because they know what's best for me and they won't steer me in the wrong direction," she concluded.

Off and running in their cleats and sneakers, A.J. and Allisha have had footprints, in dress shoes and combat boots, well out in front.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Matt Osborne and Kevin Thomas on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network and is the sports director for multiple ESPN Radio affiliates based throughout southeast Georgia. @BJBennettSports