Got the ‘Tiger’ by the tail

Sophomore turns hard work into scholarship to Auburn


Kevin Berns

Sophomore Drew Watson

By Jamie Mills

Sacrifice. A term remarkably familiar to sophomore Drew Watson.

Her family is split between two cities, she commutes over 15 hours every week, and she spends four hours each day in the gym until her muscles can go no longer.

All for one thing: An undeniable, burning passion to be the best gymnast she can be.

The early days as a toddling 2-year-old grinning after accomplishing a somersault became the start of a lifestyle for Drew. It lead to the realization that she wanted to do gymnastics in college, which is just where she’s headed.

“Auburn [University] first started watching me when I was in 7th grade,” Drew said. “They said they recognized that I was a natural athlete.”

In 8th grade, what Drew thought would be a routine campus visit became the trip of a lifetime. Drew and her mom visited Auburn University, home of the Tigers, and found themselves in astonishment when gymnastics coach Jeff Graba offered Drew a spot on his 2017 team.

“Neither one of us knew what to say, so naturally all we could think of was ‘we need some time,’” Drew’s mom said. “They had to give away a potential scholarship to hold out for Drew to make her decision, which was a big deal for a school to do.”

She was definitely blessed by God with raw talent, and she then had the perseverance to work [hard], so that she accomplished some pretty big things.”

— coach Stacy Parsley

A big deal that isn’t available for just anyone. Lucky for Drew, she was able to bargain a few months out of the two-time SEC coach of the year. Without any time to waste, Drew and her family spent those months visiting OU, Georgia, Arkansas, and several Arizona schools. The second time Drew returned to Auburn was with her dad, and as only a freshman in high school, Drew was expected to verbalize her decision on her fate as a college athlete.

“Somewhere along the drive [to Auburn], I think she kind of came to peace with it and decided this is where she wanted to be,” Drew’s dad said. “We were just blown away at the entire experience. The campus was just electric. They treated us amazingly.”

Although Drew’s dad may have been sold immediately during their second visit, Drew took a little longer to process her thoughts. The visit ended with Drew finalizing her choice to attend Auburn.

Drew still has a lot of work to do in the gym from now until she graduates high school. To her advantage, she has the experienced, well-known coaches of Texas East to help her continue to train, including coach Stacy Parsley.

“She was definitely blessed by God with raw talent,” Parsley said, “and she then had the perseverance to work [hard], so that she accomplished some pretty big things.”

Drew starts every day at 5 a.m. with the familiar sound of her alarm. After the usual protein shake for breakfast and a solid workout courtesy of APEC, Drew heads to school where she is released at 1:30 to begin a four-hour practice at Texas East. Not only is Texas East a local gym, but also the sole reason Drew and her mom are currently living in a Tyler apartment while her dad and sister still live in Nacogdoches.

I feel grateful and also kind of guilty that my family is split up because of me. The sacrifice means a lot.”

— Drew Watson

“I feel grateful and also kind of guilty that my family is split up because of me,” Drew said. ”The sacrifice means a lot.”

Reaching level 10, the highest level before the Olympics, is one of Drew’s many accomplishments. She has attended Nationals for two years, Junior Olympic Nationals for one year, and the Nastia Liukin Cup.

Through all the long hours of tears, sweat, and endless dedication, Drew has finally paved the path leading to the bright orange gymnasium of Auburn University.

“I’ve wanted to quit a lot of times, and just have a normal life,” Drew said, “but then I remember that God gave me this talent for a reason, so I can’t really abuse that.”