by James Beasley
The Wendy’s Heisman is a prestigious national award that has impacted more than 150,000 student athletes since its inception in 1994. According to the official website, “the program recognizes the nation’s most esteemed high school senior men and women for excellence in academics, athletics, and community/school involvement.”
To qualify as a Wendy’s nominee, a student must be an upcoming senior who has at least a “B” average and who participates in one or more of the 33 sports sanctioned by the National Federation of State High Schools.
Students are nominated by their respective schools, and each year, one senior boy and one senior girl in Mississippi are recognized as the best among their peers. For a particular school to have three state winners in a decade is a major accomplishment, but for one family to have three Heisman winners is unheard of – unless you’re referring to the sons of Brand and Rita Henley of Hazlehurst.
This past week, their youngest son, Richard, a senior at Copiah Academy, was recognized as the Mississippi’s 2008 State Heisman winner, equaling the feat of his older brothers, Hap, and later, Price. “Brand and I were overwhelmed,” said Rita. “When we learned that Richard had won, I couldn’t speak for a few minutes.”
No doubt the award brought back some sweet memories for the Henley household. Hap, who is now 25, won his Wendy’s Heisman in 1999. He played football and soccer at Copiah Academy and also ran track. He still holds the state MPSA record for the longest field goal – a 53-yarder kicked in 1998. In addition, he was on the student council and president of Mu Alpha Theta.
“I was pretty surprised at winning the Heisman,” said Hap. “I was very content to be in the top ten, but winning it has meant a lot more to me in recent years. I give the credit to Jesus Christ, to my parents, and to my coaches.”
Hap graduated from Ole Miss in 2004 and earned his Master of Business Administration the next year. Presently he works in the Department of Customer Service at Caterpillar Financial, Inc. in Nashville.
Price, the 20-year-old middle son, won his Heisman in 2004. He was an All-Star football and soccer player, and also excelled in basketball and track. He was the president of the student body at CA and was elected treasurer of the Mississippi Private School Student Council while in high school. Like his brother, he graduated from Copiah Academy “with highest honors.”
“I was real competitive,” Price admitted. That trait helped him – and still does. He is presently a junior at Ole Miss where he majors in English. He plans on following in his dad’s footsteps and attending law school after earning his college degree.
“They (my brothers) set the bar high,” said Richard, who recently turned 18. “I wanted to win it (the Heisman).”
He knew it wouldn’t be easy. Thousands of student athletes are nominated throughout the nation. Of that number 10 young men and 10 young women from each state are chosen as finalists. Anyone reaching that plateau is obviously special, but none in Mississippi could compare with CA’s Richard Henley.
He was an outstanding placekicker for the Colonel football team, winning a state championship his junior year. He also was an All-Star midfielder on the soccer team that finished second in MPSA Division II this year with a 17-3 record, the best in school history. In addition, he has been a vital part of the school’s perennially successful tennis team. The youngest Henley is also serving as president of the Copiah Academy Student Body Association.
“Richard winning the Heisman is a big deal for two reasons,” said his mom, Rita, a longtime teacher at Copiah Academy. “First, he was 10_ weeks premature and developmentally late, so some of his physical accomplishments didn’t come as easily. Second, his brothers got it.”
Like his older siblings, Richard plans to attend Ole Miss, where he will major in civil engineering. And then, he too will likely head to law school.
“As far as the Henley boys are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than these,” said longtime Copiah headmaster Carol Rigby.
The Wendy’s Heisman is not the first time that Hap, Price, and Richard have received identical prestigious awards. All three were named “Mr. Copiah Academy” their senior year. Price and Richard both attended the Lott Leadership Institute and received Coca Cola scholarships – two opportunities that were not available during Hap’s student career.